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Inventor Makes Cardboard Bicycles; Teacher Inspires Students to Achieve Engineering Feats

Aired June 8, 2013 - 14:29   ET


ANNOUNCER: They are innovators, game changers, people pushing themselves, moving us all forward. They are the next scientists, musicians, poets, the next makers, dreamers, teachers, and geniuses. They are "The Next List."

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to "The Next List." I am Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This week two innovators to design some of the coolest eco-vehicles to hit the streets. Simon started this hybrid X team, an after-school program that achieved national fame for building biodiesel and electric cars from scratch. And across the globe, the craftsmanship of an Israeli could revolution as transportation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a lot of trials and errors.

GUPTA: He built a bike made almost entirely of cardboard. It is waterproof, maintenance free, and inexpensive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See how light this is. I love it.

GUPTA: He took three years and six prototypes and by using the principles of Japanese origami, Izzy came up with a way to make cardboard rugged enough for us to ride.

NIMROD ELMISH, BUSINESS PARTNER: My first reaction was you have to be kidding me. I know you are humorous but took it a bit too far.

IZHAR GAFNI, INVENTOR: It is funny. Very, very funny. A lot of people didn't quite understand what I was talking about. No fear. If you have fear, you'll never be successful.

GUPTA: His design could be a game changer, to make efficient, affordable bikes for people all over the world. Welcome to "The Next List." I am Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GAFNI: The philosophy, don't fight with the cardboard. Overcome the weaknesses. That's a philosophy for this entire technology. You have to be green. You have to be sort of completely environment safe. Have to be recycled, won't disturb anybody.

My name is Izhar Gafni. I invented and build the cardboard bicycles. So this is my workshop. That's where all the magic happens.

First we take the raw material which is just plain cardboard, and then what we do is we cut them into shape and sort of fold them around with reinforcing material. I heard about the guy that built a canoe out of cardboard. I went home and that disturbed me and I couldn't let go. And suddenly it just struck my mind. Why not make bicycle out of cardboard?

It was pretty much almost an obsession. In the beginning I did it as a side job. And after not too long I have to just focus on this thing and do it if I want to succeed. That was the hardest part, just to try to run a family and try to scrape whatever I can to make this bicycle. And this is the rare part which started like this, then we doubled and glued it, and that becomes the frame.

Nobody knows how to calculate the strengths of cardboard. One of the first things was to try to calculate and see if we get mathematical properties out of it, and that's what I did. The origami is a way that gives you -- it is like you fold it, you get stronger and you fold it again and you have six times and so it goes and goes and goes. And that's what I do basically, just fold it and fold it and get to where I want.

It was a big issue to try to come up with something heavyweight cardboard, took a very long time. And I get to the point where I could do something that would hold 500 pounds without breaking. And eventually it happened.

Something like this will take anything between one hour to three hours just to fold it. Then I build the jack machine. Pretty much one of the only in the world, took about three hours. Right now we have about four people. It is a team that is a family to be honest.

We you look at corporate life in America and do exact opposite from it. This is just the frame that we're on the way to finish it. Folded cardboard, folded cardboard and all glued together to make the frame. Same thing for the wheels, identical. We use the same technology again and again and again and apply it to every piece of the bicycle. I did already have sprockets out of cardboard and that was something we will apply in the next stage.

The idea is keep on developing and keep on making it better. The first question everybody is on their mind is what is happening.

GUPTA: Coming up, Izzy puts the cardboard bike to the test. Later, shout out from the president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They did build a car that got more than 65 miles per gallon.

GUPTA: Simon Hoguer and the real David and Goliath story.


GAFNI: The best way to test bicycles, take them and go ride. Go ride across the USA, go ride across Israel. This is one of the earlier models. And that was sort of proof of concept. We rode on it quite a bit. The biggest issue was that it looks like a box on wheels. Nobody would actually want to ride it. The problem first thing is the geometry was pretty lousy. We were naive enough to think an investor would say, wow, cardboard, it works, you can ride on it. They all looked and said nobody wants it. The issue was how to go from this to something that resembles a bicycle and that was the hardest part because there was no know how to do it.

ELMISH: Even though people told him it cannot be done, he made it all the way through and investing his money and efforts and his team. My name Nimrod Elmish. I am the CEO of Cardboard Technologies and the business partner of Izzy. Usually you need a team of five people to get the knowledge base he has in his head.

GAFNI: I want to prove to myself I can start something and finish it and make it work. Build, test, break, build, test, break. Most of what I did on this one was trying to break it, just jumping on it. It still hold very good and it is a very sturdy frame. After I finish this one, I have a period when I stopped doing everything and couldn't touch the bicycle anymore.

I stopped, rethinking everything and said, OK, let's put logic into it. One bicycle I want for myself and things started going into place and look much brighter. For the innovation you have probably one of the most important things to be without fears. If you have fears, you never be successful. You never make it halfway, because there is always the question in your mind, will it work?

This is a result of all the four years of incredibly hard work and making the impossible. It is a bicycle, like any other bicycle. All the same, drive the same, only difference, cardboard. It's extremely cheap and very durable and can be fully recycled.

ELMISH: When he told me the cost of the production, then I understood that the market is endless and you have here something which is what we call the game-changer.

GAFNI: I'll show you some of this scenery used to be my childhood. You can see the dining room. We used to eat ear breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

ELMISH: From early age he was a genius.

GAFNI: What I remember is taking apart everything I could get my hands on. So this was my real playground, all the tractors and equipment and needed to be fixed, and it is here. My father used to work there as a mechanic.

SHLOMO GAFNI, FATHER: He learned by alone. He kept asking about bike or about the planets and everything.

GAFNI: I am not an engineer by trade. I am designing machines since I was about 17. That's what I know to do best. Innovation in Israel is probably our main business. We do things very fast, which is completely different than any other country in the world. But the aftermath of innovation, we don't have it here. There is not much of production, and that's the phase we want to go through. ELMISH: This project is totally different from anything we have seen, anything. Since we use recycling materials, we use incentives. There are some states where when you use these kinds of materials, you get to negative costs in the factory which means you get money for each product. This is something that helps create local industries, the prices are more efficient.

GAFNI: This one, for example, 1,200 euros. This is anywhere between 20 to 30. So there is a little bit of a difference there. Our dream is the bicycle free. Give it free for sort of government project for car free neighborhoods.

ELMISH: The whole concept of the bikes is build something so solid and so strong that you could throw them in a village in Africa and come back next year to collect the damage one and bring new ones.

GAFNI: This is a test to show that the bicycle frame is waterproof. This was one of the most complex issues we had. Now the solution is not just one piece, but combining some methods and use together with the cardboard. For example, if the material is too thick, you can't recycle the bike.

I took a piece of cardboard, coated it, and then put it in an aquarium for eight months. Quite a few people ask me about this thing to tell us what it is. And I say for now the coating is coating. It just makes it waterproof.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The secret sauce?

GAFNI: No, no, no secret. The material itself is not important. The way you do it is important. It's pretty strong. I think for now it proved itself.

The next thing will be very simple and affordable wheelchair. My dream is that we got already one team that wants to use cardboard as frame for one of their cars. And hopefully it will happen. My greatest hope is to leave a legacy of innovation behind. So far it has been a hell of a journey.

GUPTA: When we come back, if you build them, they will come, the nicest ride.


GUPTA: Welcome back to "The Next List." I am Dr. Sanjay Gupta. You may call Simon Hauger a revolutionary teacher. In Philadelphia where the high school dropout rate is hovering around 40 percent, he is inspiring kids to stay in school.

SIMON HAUGER, THE SUSTAINABILITY WORKSHOP: A car that gets over 100 miles per gallon, those are the skills just as important as the fundamental basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

GUPTA: Simon started the West Philly's Hybrid X team to teach kids how to build green cars from the ground up. That success fueled Simon's ultimate dream, a school called the sustainability workshop where inner city students spend their entire senior year solving real world problems. It's by no means your typical school. Simon Hauger is not your average teacher.

HAUGER: I was a really good math teacher and science teacher. I turned a strobe light on and do the break dance and get the kids excited and give them the test at the end of the week. And it is frustrating because it didn't stick. The fundamental shift that's happened this year is that the relationships that we're building are authentic and that to me is very exciting.

My name is Simon Hauger, and I am the founder of the Hybrid X team, founder of the Sustainability Workshop. We started off really small. I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I happened to be teaching math and science in this automotive vocational program in west Philly, and they had a go-cart frame in the shop and we thought how can we turn this into a science fair project. The kids hadn't won the science fair before. We built a full size electric vehicle and they found a national competition called the Tour de Sol so we competed in this five day road rally from New York city to Washington, D.C. that car, the sat earn we convert, we worked on for two years and refined it and it was getting over 180 miles per gallon equivalent and we won the race that year.

MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER, PHILADELPHIA: It actually beat some recognizable names. I won't embarrass them on camera, some really known colleges and universities in the engineering area.

I am Michael Nutter, mayor of the city of Philadelphia. The Philly Hybrid X team, it is important because it gives these young people not only the academic support that they need and also the hands-on experience.

HAUGER: This in the space we use at the Navy yard for the shop. This is a Ford Focus. We designed it on a $25,000 budget. Our kids thought if we can build a car that was cost effective, safe, and got 100 miles per gallon it would really say something, especially if we use American made technologies. So the second vehicle we produced is based on a factory five chassis. We had an electric drive in the front, a Volkswagen diesel engine in the rear, and that really put us in a position to be contenders in this $10 million Automotive X prize.

BRANDON FORD, STUDENT: To me the competition, you get in a car that could sustain 100 miles to the gallon of fuel. I guess the pinnacle of my accomplishment from working with the team was I was able to meet the president. He was honoring us because we were one of the groups that had national recognition for teaching kids a lot of different things about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

OBAMA: They didn't win the competition. They're kids. But they did build a car that got more than 65 miles per gallon. They went toe to toe with car companies and big name universities.


HAUGER: So we realized we kind of stumbled on an educational approach, a school that really is centered on student relationships and providing students support to solve real world problems. They all have stories. They're facing more challenges than you would want your own teenaged child to ever have to face.

FORD: It definitely changed my life.

GUPTA: When we return, a morning commute that's been worth the sacrifice.


STEFON GONZALEZ, STUDENT: I wake up at 6:15, out the door precisely at 6:30. I am a senior at the sustainability workshop. Sometimes I walk to the end of my block and catch the 13. If I miss it, I walk down and catch the 52 bus. It is definitely worth it, you know, worth the commute. People my age can do a lot of things. Right now with the school district in Philadelphia, there really isn't any energy efficiency or urban sustainability courses worked into the school day.

HAUGER: I entered education like most young idealistic teachers, and just believed that all that was need is really good solid teachers, that I could teach anybody anything. And it was tough because I was trading on a relationship that I developed with the students that this content that I am teaching you, algebra and geometry, it will change your life, it is preparing you, trust me. And that is exhausting. There is some truth there, but some of it is not true.

What ended up compelling me to leave west Philadelphia high school is all the challenges that I was facing as an educator and the bureaucracy, it was just too much. It was too difficult to pull off.

The few of my friends and I started to think about dream at first, what would we do if we would reimagine school? What would it look like? I worked to develop a project based curriculum and move it into the school day. I wanted to see the success we were having in the after school program affect more students.

GONZALEZ: Every day is different here at the Sustainability Workshop.

HAUGER: Good morning.

GONZALEZ: The typical day is we have a half hour morning meeting where we deal with community business.

HAUGER: Just to make sure are you staying on top that far and all signed up. Lori has done a fantastic job.

We'll read a short pass only on sustainability that Van Jones has written or we'll look at the initiative from the mayor's office around the green works projects. Typically from 830, 845 to somewhere around 11 we'll have project time. We have a group that did an electric go cart. Looking at comparing gasoline vehicles to electric vehicles, what would a scale model look like? We have a team doing biodiesel, and we looked at a variety of ways of making it. This group of students decided to take on the challenge of replacing inefficient light bulbs, so they came up with a business plan that is brilliant. ALEJANDRA MELEAN, STUDENT: Here you actually have to look at what is going on around you, and discuss it with the teachers, have a proposal, and make them interested about it.

GONZALEZ: This is called the electric light car and when we were in the competition at they decided to give us one of their bodies and chassis so we could build one of our own. We had custom made axles. A car can't move without the axle. We're working on that.

I really don't know where I would be if it wasn't for him. I have accomplished a lot of things by being here. For the most part I have a wallet full of business cards. This summer I will be interning for the local public transportation company in Philadelphia.

HAUGER: One of the ways I know I am successful is when you look at the students and the ways they have grown this year compared to the kind of growth I have seen in the more traditional approach to education is outstanding. This has worked better than we imagined. Many of them have read more books than they have ever read in their life. They have all written more this year than they have written in past years. They have done real math. They have done real science.

GONZALEZ: We are an ambitious group of kids. We all have goals, and we all know what we have to do to get there.

HAUGER: The first car that we built that got over 100 miles per gallon people said that was impossible for inner city kids to do that. I knew we could do it. To be able to compete in the international world stage for a $10 million prize and be taken seriously, people thought that was impossible as well. But we're determined.

What's next is to grow the sustainability workshop, first for nine through 12 school and then we would like to see many schools in the city. We're going to touch more children's lives and ultimately we're going to have an impact on urban education in Philadelphia.

GUPTA: And Simon just got great news. The Sustainability Workshop will expand into a full publicly funded high school next year. There is no other school like this in Philly. If all goes well, mass production of the cardboard bike begins later this year. Simon and Izzy, two innovators who see no obstacles, never giving up on their dream for a smarter and greener world, and that's what earns them a spot on "The Next List."

I am Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Hope to see you back next week.