The Automobile as Gymnasium

Surely among the keen followers of Neatorama there must be some like myself with a tendency to hold onto obsessive thoughts, fixed ideas and strange schemes for decades. I have entertained this idea for at least thirty years: It should be possible to exercise while you drive or ride in an automobile. Never mind that this idea runs up against a zillion objections, with driver distraction being only of them.  But ideas that one obsesses about cannot easily be dropped, any more than it is easy to quit cold turkey a lifelong addiction to alcohol (which is not one of my problems, thankfully).



This idea first came to me in 1977, at a time when U.S. automakers were making little headway competing against the onslaught of small, economical cars that had been arriving on U.S. shores from England and Europe. In the 1970s, models began to appear from Japan like the Honda Civic, a very small sedan that was in 1973 shockingly efficient and got great gas mileage. What to do with the oversized U.S. gas guzzlers was a question discussed nationally. My first idea was that U.S. carmakers could simply remove the gas-consuming engine and replace it with a 30-speed bicycle. Its top speed might be one-mile-per hour, but it would get very competitive mileage!


Thirty-one years later, in 2008, I drew this car, the GYM Pedal. That old guy in the drawing is not I, but that’s how old I feel on some days. He is pedaling in order to keep in shape, and he feels he is being useful by keeping a few small battery-powered devices in the car charged up.



The idea of exercising while you drive has some immediately obvious flaws, but exercising while one is a passenger seems quite possible and somewhat easy to accommodate. Before any commenter on Neatorama raises the objection that there are no seatbelts in my Trampoline Cars, I will defend myself by saying that this was drawn in 1983, a year before the first seat-belt legislation was enacted in the U.S., in the state of New York. So it’s not like I was ignoring a law. Yet common sense suggests there might be some problems with both of the concepts shown above. Very sudden braking would pitch the exerciser violently forward. It’s not like I don’t understand that fact. This drawing was merely a concept sketch. A more refined design would require the trampoliners to wear halter-like “bodybelts”, helmets, and inflatable, crash-mitigating clothing.  Certainly, the view from such a high perch would be amazing, and the feeling from bouncing on a trampoline in a moving car would never be forgotten.





Another option for passenger exercise that occurred to me was the Exercise Roll Bar. The idea needs more study. For instance, how fast would the exerciser spin, if the Jeep came to a sudden stop? Would the spinning cause excessive dizziness? Would the exerciser need to grip a cable-connected handbrake?



The idea of exercising while one is the driver of a moving vehicle continues to intrigue me. Driving for hours can induce dangerous levels of drowsiness and lethargy. Exercise improves alertness! A treadmill could be integrated into the design of a vehicle’s floorboard. Would there be a problem with a driver’s balance, while he or she is working out on a treadmill? Might the act of jogging itself be distracting? Would the striding motion conflict with the ability to steer a vehicle smoothly? With the Jogger Electric car, would it be dangerous to have one’s upper body projected up through the moon roof, as shown?



In 1990 I worked on the same concept applied to newer vehicle models, and added standing belts with full-body halters. The orange vehicle in the inset drawing provides an exercycle for both passenger and driver. The driver steers and brakes by hand, using equipment currently available for motorcyclists and for handicapped drivers of passenger cars. In the two-tone, yellow and blue vehicle there is a pop-up shower stall that is created when the rear trunk lid is raised.



Some of my ideas for exercising while driving require hands-free driving. I have experimented with many concepts. I have thought about how the act of steering a vehicle at high speeds requires only small movements of the steering wheel. On the left, the drawing with 1980s-era brake and gas pedals shows a driver steering by foot. By pressing down with the heel, the steering wheel turns left, while pressing forward with the toes causes it to turn right. When more extreme turning movements are needed for making u-turns or for parking, the driver uses the steering wheel.
On the right is shown a dual floor pedals concept that includes a pedal for braking-accelerating. Short of doing a patent search, I am guessing that I am not the first inventor to design a single pedal that combines both braking and accelerating functions.



Should both pedals prove, after exhaustive testing by the National Safety Highway Transportation Agency (NSHTA), to be safe and trustworthy devices that are reliable under all driving conditions, what is there to stop auto design engineers from completely rethinking the role and purpose of the act of driving a car? Cars could be designed to accommodate activities that are currently unavailable to drivers. They would be free to eat lunch, type lengthy emails or get a full workout while driving at freeway speeds. They would be liberated from the drudgery of mere driving!

Visit Steven M. Johnson at his website..

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Truly ingenious, Steve! I'm particularly impressed with the pop-up shower stall in the trunk of a two-door family vehicle. If you can find a way to throw in a cooking area somewhere (perhaps the passenger side), we might surely be looking at the future of real estate for most of our generation. Assuming that we'll be able to afford even that, that is.
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Another advantage of the trampoline vehicle would be that, on the uprise of the trampolineer, the vehicle would not be carrying the weight of that person, in effect increasing gas mileage efficiency.

It's similar to long-haul trucks of pet birds. The drivers are routinely instructed to lay on the horn for the duration of the trip, so to startle the birds into flight, thus decreasing the weight of the load, and increasing gas mileage.
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