Mexico City is tied with Beijing for the worst traffic jams in the world. With 4 million cars on the road, it’s not uncommon for commuters to spend as many as six hours stuck in traffic every day. Other Mexican cities face similar congestion at smaller scales, with painful delays during rush hour.
When design students at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán decided to try to find a way to help ease traffic on local roads, they started with one part of the problem–heavy and cumbersome cargo bikes that often break down in the middle of the road, making backups even worse.
Cargo bikes might not pollute the air, but they often don’t work particularly well. The bikes tend to be heavy, difficult to steer, and prone to tipping over. The students aimed to reinvent the bikes without adding a motor.
The result was Mocan, a simple vehicle that looks like a scooter, with extra room in front to carry boxes or other goods. Designed as part of the Biomimicry Student Design Challenge, which asks students to look for inspiration in nature, the Mocan imitates the squiggle movement of centipedes and snakes. Instead of pedaling, you move a handle back and forth to move quickly down the street.
“The way it works is similar to rowing a boat,” say designers Diana Carolina Vega Basto, Shirley Karine Molina Couoh, Alvaro Buenfil, Jesús Iván Toto Tun, and Iván Leonardo Ek Rodríguez. “It has a lever connected to the front wheel axle that creates a serpentine movement when you move the lever from right to left. That combines with a system inside the wheels that is inspired by snake scales.”
As the wheels turn, they catch along scale-like grips that help propel the scooter forward while reducing traction and making the whole thing more stable.
“It can be loaded with 10 kilos of cargo,” the designers say. “It’s more stable because it has four wheels, and because of the axis, it always has at least three wheels on the ground. It also can go up stairs.” Because it only takes one arm to control, the designers think it could also be a unique solution for disabled people.
If someone wants to move more cargo or people, they can attach extra scooters behind the first one, like wagons on a train.
The designers are working on developing their prototype for commercialization, and hope that it can start to replace not just cargo bikes but also trucks and cars for small deliveries in cities everywhere. “At the beginning, Mocan was created for a local problem, but the final product could be used by every person around the world,” they say.