ASTORIA — Cory Little considers himself a tinkerer.
In the woods outside Elsie, the 39-year-old instrument maker has been busy crafting his latest invention inspired by a vision where compressed air power replaces conventional petroleum engines.
“The ultimate goal is to inspire others to build machines that run on compressed air and eventually displacing all the harmful technologies,” Little said.
In 2013, Little recalled seeing a sea of traffic lights on Highway 26 one morning as he left Elsie and headed toward Portland.
“Three lanes wide and they all had their brakes on,” Little recalled. “That’s when I first started thinking about regenerative braking and compressed air as a vehicular option.”
Later in 2013, relying on rudimentary design and drafting skills, he built his first pneumatic engine that ran off a soda-bottle sized canister of compressed air. It cost $50 in spare parts and pushed his bike about three blocks. But it proved that his simple design could work.
“There are only five moving parts,” Little explained. “This valve operates two double acting cylinders, or four single acting air or hydraulic pistons, in a variety of configurations, creating a low cost reliable motor. It’s the lowest cost air motor to have ever existed. It’s cheaper than a gas or electric motor to the point where we can not only have air-powered bikes, but air-powered weed wackers, lawn mowers and chainsaws — all that stuff using this technology at a lower cost. They would be easier to maintain, cheaper to build and more sustainable. We could use it for thousands of years without hurting the planet, and that’s the real reason I did this.”
In 2015, Little open sourced the instructions and diagrams on his air-powered prototype and posted a tutorial on YouTube (youtube.com/watch?v=tBHiGha2oqI), in particular the rotary valve design. The video has garnered more than 50,000 views.
Little has been making patches emblazoned with an image of his pneumatic bike for contributions to help raise funds for his next prototype, which he estimates will cost around $3,000 to build. Little believes the next design — with a bigger sprocket and different gear ratio — could set the pneumatic speed record, currently 81 mph.
“I’ve got the design to beat it,” he said. “It just needs funds.”
For more information, visit pneubike.com.