Solar Rickshaws for India

The humble bicycle will be transformed into a green electric vehicle

The most common sight in India, the wooden rickshaw, pulled by people for a fee, could soon be replaced by modern, electric counterparts, as part of India's effort to reduce the heavy pollution it is facing, as well as its dependency on fossil fuels. New Delhi has hosted this month the exhibit of the first solar-powered rickshaw prototypes, whose job is to relieve the clogged streets that characterize today's India.

The new models will be powered by a 36-volt solar cell and will be outfitted with power outlets for cell phones recharging capabilities. The wooden and insecure benches are to be replaced with foamed ones, for a plus of comfort and the ability to carry three people comfortably. The vehicle can also be pedaled normally, without using a drop of electricity. An FM radio is also mounted inside by default. Authorities say that this improved version of the rickshaw could offer a viable transport alternative to more than 8 million owners in India.

Also, developers considered the psychological impact of the new rickshaws. Currently, drivers of such vehicles are regarded as nothing more than mere slaves and are treated as such. The job is not very dignifying and some rickshaw pullers suffer from extremely low self-esteem. But all that could change once the new vehicles are entered into mass-production.

The solar rickshaw can travel at a speed of about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) per hour, and has an autonomy of about 50 to 70 kilometers (30 to 42 miles). The batteries can be recharged at designated locations throughout major cities, for a fixed sum. However, developers are concerned that even a small fee could be too much for some of the poorest people in the country. By 2010, when New Delhi will host the Commonwealth Games, the new rickshaw is scheduled to become the most important means of transportation between various sport venues around the city.

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