Images of the ‘straddling bus’ from China went viral this week, and it’s not hard to see why – it’s a Willy Wonka-style solution to the country’s monumental traffic issues. Unfortunately it’s about as real as Wonka too.
State-backed-media have come out to poke holes in the project in a no-holds-barred attack that discredits everything from the bus’ design to the engineer’s primary school education.
According to the People’s Daily, authorities in Qinghuangdao city had no idea the public bus test was being conducted, and the trial was recorded as an “internal test.” State-backed Global Times added to the project’s PR woes with an editorial smearing the project’s investor, and heralding it the next major P2P investment scam.
It’s clear the bus is not a road-ready solution, but who honestly thought it was?
The concept by TEB Technology was designed to bypass urban vehicles by traveling above them like an enormous, runaway section of tunnel with 1200 people aboard. The max height of any car driving under the bus is 2.1 meters, which would pose issues for the cardboard-stacked trucks and bedazzled stretch hummers periodically found on Chinese roads.
The August 2 test ran at a low speed in a straight line for just 300 meters, hardly enough to test the viability of the project. It’s clear that initial prototype wasn’t built to quell doubts about turning vehicles, obscured stop signs, and damage caused by road weight, but can any investor in this project really say they were duped when every second Weibo onlooker can point out engineering flaws? (Is that an apartment block-style air conditioning unit in the inner left wheel?)
The straddling bus was first pitched at an expo in 2010, when it drew novel interest but no material investment. Six years later it reappeared, virtually unchanged – at a tech expo in Beijing this May. It attracted worldwide media coverage and inventor Song Youzhou launched a plan to reveal the bus before the end of the year.
And sure, the straddling bus is not feasible, but it really doesn’t matter. It highlights what is both ridiculous and incredible about China’s culture of innovation: if you want to dream up a magic sky bus and manufacture it from the workbench to public test in three months, that can be arranged.
A short look through China’s vehicular history reveals a number of outlandish concepts, from the Chery @Ant centipede-like connecting car trains revealed at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show to eHang’s actually-possible flying taxi drone, proving that amid China’s innovation fever, you can apparently still afford to build first, design later.
“We haven’t done anything wrong at all,” maintained Song Youzhou in an interview with Sixth Tone. “The latest tests show that the bus design is entirely possible.”
Title Image: A miniature mockup of the straddling bus presented by TEB Technology at the 2016 Beijing Hi-Tech Expo in May.