Monday, April 27, 2015

The Prius of bikes

Electric bicycles have become more and more popular. I rode one not long ago, and the rush of the power assist was spectacular. The gist is that you plug the bike in to charge a battery, and when you opt for a little help -- say, when going up a hill -- you flip a switch on the handlebar and the power kicks in. Not bad if you're commuting to work, and you don't want to arrive all sweaty.

The Prius of bikes

The Copenhagen Wheel (MIT Senseable City Laboratory)
The Copenhagen Wheel (MIT Senseable City Laboratory)

Electric bicycles have become more and more popular. I rode one not long ago, and the rush of the power assist was spectacular. The gist is that you plug the bike in to charge a battery, and when you opt for a little help -- say, when going up a hill -- you flip a switch on the handlebar and the power kicks in. Not bad if you're commuting to work, and you don't want to arrive all sweaty.

Now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are designing a wheel that takes the kinetic energy from braking -- much like a Prius or other hybrid car does -- and uses that for a boost when the rider needs it. Supposedly, this battery will weigh less than the ones on more traditional electric bicycles.

Better still, it's a smart wheel. According to the lab: "Controlled through your smart phone, the Copenhagen Wheel becomes a natural extension of your everyday life. You can use your phone to unlock and lock your bike, change gears and select how much the motor assists you. As you cycle, the wheel’s sensing unit is also capturing your effort level and information about your surroundings, including road conditions, carbon monoxide, NOx, noise, ambient temperature and relative humidity. Access this data through your phone or the web and use it to plan healthier bike routes, to achieve your exercise goals or to meet up with friends on the go. You can also share your data with friends, or with your city - anonymously  if you wish – thereby contributing to a fine-grained database of environmental information from which we can all benefit."

According to an article in the New York Times, MIT lab director Carlo Rotti said this new development makes cycling even more effective. He called it "Biking 2.0." 

Others said in the article that one of the best things about bicycles is their simplicity, so leave them alone.

The cycle was to have been introduced yesterday in Copenhagen.

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