Industrial Design lecturer Mark Richardson, from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has created a velomobile prototype made from salvaged materials, a few off-the-shelf parts and modular 3D printed components. Dubbed FAB Velo, the open source project features a modular design that was developed with the aim of enabling users to build their own velomobile.
"The project challenge was to design a DIY build system for a velomobile from easy-to-source materials with easy-to-access tools," Mark Richardson told Gizmag.
After having worked for a decade designing cars for Ford Motor Company, Richardson decided to complete a PhD project that was based on sustainability principles and offered an economical transport option for people who do not wish to use, or may not have access to, a regular car. And thus the FAB Velo was born.
"I wanted to design something affordable and makeable, while being comfortable enough to tootle to the shops for groceries while feeling relatively safe in traffic," says Richardson.
Traditionally velomobiles are pedal-powered tricycles which feature a distinctive exterior shell and can come with or without an electric motor.
"It is generally understood that the aerodynamic gains from the faring can offset the energy deficit resulting from carrying its extra weight," explains Richardson. "It also offers weather protection, some crash resistance and built-in stowage space. In many ways velomobiles offer the functionality of a car but with a smaller spatial footprint, lightweight construction and energy efficient drivetrain."
The FAB Velo was built using salvaged materials and waste products sourced from hard rubbish collections and skips on the side of the road. For example the compression masts came from used whipper snippers, walking frames, deck chairs and disability aids. The running gear and rear wheel were sourced from two discarded bicycles and the front wheels came from a wheelchair.
"The rearmost compression mast was made from bicycle rear stays with an aluminum pole fixed into the seat tube to extend the frame above the head of the rider," adds Richardson. "The steering knuckles were adapted from children’s scooter handlebars with 3D-printed bushings and off-the-shelf bearings inserted into them."
Richardson experimented with several different materials to create the exterior skin of the velomobile, including paper, cardboard, tent canvas, trampoline skins and umbrella fabric, however in the end he chose to go with tent canvas and and clear semi-rigid PVC from a discarded advertising lightbox.
"While there is the possibility to reuse wire rope from demolition sites or clotheslines, it was decided in this case to source it as-new along with the accompanying ferrules and eyelets," says Richardson.
On-road visibility was also an important factor for Richardson and therefore unlike most velomobiles, the FAB Velo is the same height as the average sedan, giving the user improved visibility while also raising the rider's eye line to the same height as other drivers. "This was intended to give the feeling of being part of the traffic, rather than under it," explains Richardson. "When riding a typical velomobile, the rider’s eye line is at, or below, the beltline of the other vehicles on the road. Despite many contrary opinions in the VM community, I have personally never felt comfortable with this."
In Richardson's opinion the FAB Velo's frame is relatively easy to build and he hopes to publish its instructions in the coming months.
"While not yet fully released as an open source project, the FAB Velo has most importantly been designed to be hacked," says Richardson. "If you have the skills to rebuild a bicycle, you should be able to build a FAB Velo without difficulty."