When politicians talk about global leadership in innovation, they often refer loftily to biotech, the mechanical miracle of a Mars rover, or the infinite inner world of computers. But the soul of innovation is also in the grease, gears, and chains at Wentworth Institute of Technology, where recent graduates John Pelkey and Eric Crouch literally reinvented the wheel.
Pelkey and Crouch earned money in school as cycle drivers for Boston Pedicab. But never let an industrial designer (Pelkey) or a mechanical engineer (Crouch) get their foot on the pedal. The two became perturbed at the fragility and weight of the current generation of pedicabs. “These are horrible products,” Pelkey told the Globe, “and we thought we could do better.” He and Crouch designed a vehicle so much lighter and durable that it won first prize and $10,000 in Wentworth’s first Accelerate Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge. They are now trying to sell their design to pedicab companies.
At a time that congested cities are encouraging non-car travel in downtown cores, efforts like those of Pelkey and Crouch to build a better pedicab are not mere flights of fancy. Boston currently allows 35 pedicabs on the street. They are frequently seen ferrying fans from the Back Bay to Red Sox games. A better vehicle could transform pedicabs from a tourist novelty into a prime mode of getting around the core, particularly in high-growth, limited-transit areas like the Innovation District. These Wentworth grads may prove to be as much on the cutting edge of innovation on the asphalt of America as rovers are on the red rocks of Mars.