EROCKIT OR LEAVE IT - Interview with Stefan Gulas, Entrepreneur
AfN: We are here in the 'Meilenwerk' a forum for automotive culture in Berlin to interview Stefan Gulas an entrepreneur and inventor of a new form of transport. Can you tell us what you have invented?
Stefan Gulas: I have invented a new category of two-wheel vehicles, I call it human hybrid. What it is, is something in between a bicycle and a motorcycle: it is a motorized vehicle combined with a muscle-powered vehicle. So, for the first time in history, in order to get a motorized vehicle working and running you have to do exercise: if you donít do anything on it actively, it doesnít work, It doesn't drive.
AfN: What force is driving you to create these machines? What is the entrepreneurial goal?
Stefan Gulas: The primary goal for me is to have impact, to contribute positively to society and to the world, and Iím an ďidea guyĒ, so I have had many ideas before the eRockit, which is the name of this vehicle, was instantly to me visible or foreseeable as something that could be of high impact to the world and as far as what we are trying to make electric and alternative vehicles sexy, not just through the power but through the concept, through a new way of driving, and that makes it so appealing to have those that you donít care whether itís green or not green, or electrical or not electrical: you just want to have it because it is cool and itís fun to ride. And if you are able as a company or as a leader in a category that is now developing to set an example and to get into a broader production scheme and produce more, you can have quite an impact on how people are using vehicles and what kind of vehicles and accelerate the conversion from gasoline to electric vehicles. With global warming as probably one of the biggest challenges in centuries for humanity, that is my personal contribution to that.
AfN: Can you imagine the eRockit as a worlds transport medium like the Honda Super Cup (With more than 60 million sold it was the best selling vehicle of all time. The Super Cup was produced around 50 years)?
Stefan Gulas: Yes and no. That no, I would say, itís based on our scored sales price; at that price itís not going to have such a volume, but it has the potential to also go into volume. Iím not sure if we are going to make it as a huge volume vehicle, but there is certainly somebody else who will pick that up and do volume and we will stay more at the luxury premium market and eRockit GmbH will most probably not have that volume ever, because of our positioning.
AfN: You call your builds "machine human hybrid". Why?
Stefan Gulas: Itís a technical description of the drive train. Hybrid means that you have two different sources of power in the vehicle. In cars this would normally be gasoline and electricity, but for us, and that's why we call it ďhumanĒ, is the person and the electric engine. So you are contributing to the propulsion and the drive of the vehicle, to a lesser degree but anyway you are contributing as a human, as well as the electric motor.
Marek Claassen and Stefan Gulas with the Erockit at Meilenwerk
When you Google for 'machine human hybrid' you end up with the 'cyborg'. In popular culture these creatures are linked to extraterrestrial figures like 'Roy Batty' (Blade Runner), 'Darth Vader' (Star Wars) and 'Terminator' in Manga the idea has been successful in the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise. But all of these characters are more of a mecha. A walking vehicle like the quadrupeds called BigDog from Boston Dynamics. In the end science fiction. Do you imagine your work as fiction?
Iím aware of the fact that it's not considered a vehicle in the normal way we do it, but the hint to science-fiction is not the worst thing, because if you look at our vehicle, when you drive it, some people think immediately that it is science-fiction: they donít really understand how it works but it doesn't seem real to them. The work as fiction, to me, is a question of how far you get somebody into using it, or seeing it, into a different and emotional mode, and to me, as far as I am concerned, at least for vehicles, we are pretty close to fiction because this human hybrid, this side of pedaling to get the vehicle moving, is nothing that you have to do mechanically or technically, it actually reduces the maneuverability of the vehicle, but nonetheless we do it because in your mind it sets and expectation of a bicycle, but you have the power and the speed of a motorcycle. So in your mind you are extremely fast, and if fiction happens in your mind, then the speed and the excitement in your mind is probably somewhere in the direction of fiction.
When I cycled with your eRockit my fist impression was, that the age of the combustion engine is over. The feeling is difficult to describe. Maybe it is this strange mixture of high pitching sound combined with super power while cycling. You cycle, you easily overtake cars and you feel displaced, as if you would have been dropped from a different world into todayís everyday life. Probably it is best described in the famous scene in 'Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home' when Scotty tries to communicate with a Macintosh Plus by speaking purposefully into the mouse. I was wondering if you feel a kind of spaced out from normal life because of the field you're working in?
For me itís reality, but for the rest itís future. For me, if I'm that kind of situation where I'm way ahead of everyone else, then I'm really happy, I'm in the right situation, I'm a spot for myself. Iím actually enjoying it, but thatís the place I want to be: if Iím not there, if I have to live in 2009, then Iím really frustrated. And everything I do is in the future, the things I think a re 5-10 years ahead or even more, and to some degrees Iím looking around corners to feel how the future is going to be like and develop something that fits exactly into that kind of future.
Would you spot yourself as a part of a sort of a movement? Is there a community of thinkers in a third way you belong too? I ask this because in all my research I found various types of ebikes. Even the Uno an electric one-wheeler controlled by balance. But all of these bikes have in common is that you commute without moving your body - even the gearing is gone. There's no exercise involved. The eRockit is exercise. My sister for example leaves the elevators aside because she needs the exercise she says. By designing the concept did you have mind that the contemporary human is in its current state more or less motionless?
Yes of course, that was one of the major things that I had in mind: to change the concept of a motorized vehicle. The concept of the motorized vehicle was developed in the outgoing 19th century, and the most important aspect back then was to rule over nature. I think now, 130 years later, dominating the nature is not the idea: we know that we have damaged it a lot and we need to go one step back. Ultimate domination in transport is going 100-150km/h and donít move. Before you had to move to get somewhere, and let alone the speed. But now you can get beyond that speed without doing anything. People donít want to change once they have accepted something, it took then quite a long time before they accepted the car over the carriage, it didn't came overnight. Because it established itself so well and worked so well, and the automotive and motorcycle industries are one of the biggest, nobody thought whether it was still adequate to have today, in 2009, something that comes from 1886. I think we have found a solution that is much more adequate for us today because itís a much more intense kind of travelling and going around, compared to a normal vehicle where you only passively steer but you donít actively do anything. If you compare the ebikes, electric bikes or motorcycles, to what we do, my best analogy would be back in 1886: it was a basically a motorized carriage, it wasn't a car yet, because that was the only four-wheel concept they knew then; so they replaced the horses by the engine and had a motorized carriage that eventually became a car. For me, this electric motorcycles only replace the gasoline engine by an electric engine and are a kind of motorized carriages. What we do is more like a car, because it's much more appropriate for the electric drive train: it is so different to the gasoline drive train that you have to develop a new concept; otherwise it is not working because it's developed for the gasoline engine, not for the electric engine.
Marek Claassen and Stefan Gulas
Lets come to the aesthetical dimension. The cars in the late 19th century looked like a horse-drawn coach without the horse. It took the car designers till the mid 1950s to form the CitroŽn DS. The CitroŽn DS, recently voted the most beautiful car of all time, has set a new auction sale price record at the weekend (7 February 2009) with a rare Citroen DS Convertible selling for Euro 337,500 at the Bonhams auction held in Paris at Retromobile, the worldís largest classic car show. It took the manufacturers roughly a century to develop into this car design. What about the electric cars and bikes. Do they still have to develop their own style? For me the eRockit looks more or less like mule. An offspring of Motorbike and Mountain bike?
I donít really have a strong position there. I know we are the first incarnation of a vehicle of this type, but itís definitely not going to be the last one. So we are maybe in 1905 and the DS is coming in 40 years: I donít know, but I hope so, I would love to see it developing: we haven't started and it's already the end of the development, then what's the fun of it?
The age of the combustion engine is strongly connected to the last century. Especially when we take a look at racing history: 1911 the First Indy 500, 1923 the First 24h Le Mans,1949 the First Motor GP, 1950 the First Formula One. This year 2009 was the First TTXGP Race. The World's First Zero Carbon, Clean Emission Grand Prix. Your team participated. Did you win?
No (laughs), unfortunately not, we had some technical problems with our motor: it overheated during the practice session and in one instance we had a crash with the driver and after that we weren't confident enough to participate in the race. We withdrew but we learnt a lot and we will be back next year. I also wanted to mention something regarding racing, that was one of the reasons why we wanted to participate: with the eRockit you can actually establish a new kind of sport that is in between bicycle racing and motorcycle racing, and you do that by standardizing the input/output rations of the eRockits, so one a driver drives at a certain power level, letís say 150 watt, he gets a certain power from the engine, times hundred letís say, 15 kW. If another driver can pedal stronger and gets 200 Watt, he gets 20 kW, so the stronger your feet are, the more power you have available but to a much larger extent than on bicycle racing, and due to the speed itís much more relevant to handle the eRockit compared to bicycle riding, so you can have a motor sport where the physical fitness of the driver has a direct impact on the speed, and not just an indirect impact that lets you concentrate in driving. Indeed something that could be very appealing to people and very fun to watch; especially if you compare it to what happened in the TTXGP, where because of the lack of power and energy that you can take with you on one round due to the limited capacity of batteries, you cannot race fast because you are wasting too much energy: itís like going for 60 km/h with one liter of gasoline, so you canít accelerate because then one liter is gone: itís sustainable racing! If you would do that with a bicycle and pedaling it would look much faster because you are always comparing to bicycle riding, not to motorcycle riding, and then it's fast. Of course you could accelerate with an electric engine the same way you do with a 1000 cc motorbike, but you would be out of energy after five miles: you could be as fast, but not for very long.
The motorbike was the first form of personal mechanized transport to emerge from the beginning of the industrial age. It has been the motorbike that was contributed a show in the Guggenheim Art Museum in 1998. You have won the 2009 Red dot design award in the product category Automobiles, transport and caravans. With more than 11,000 submissions the ďred dot design awardĒ is the largest design competition in the world. Why do you think the eRockit was chosen? Was it the aesthetical qualification, the concept or both?
I guess it was both. We have a very distinct design, and it comes directly out of the concept itself: you cannot have one without the other. Form follows function.
Thank you for the interview, Mr. Gulas.