Gadgets

This cool MIT-developed wheel will make your bike faster, smarter, and connected

Image Credit: Copenhagen Wheel

You bicycle could soon be smarter than you are.

A team from MIT’s SENSEable City Lab has developed technology called the “Copenhagen Wheel” that turns regular bikes into electric, connected bikes that are loaded with sensors and transmit a wealth of data.

They launched a startup called Superpedestrian out of stealth mode today that will bring the product to market. It is backed by $2.1 million in venture capital.

Superpedestrian founders Assaf Biderman and Carlo Rotti are directors of the SENSEable City Lab, an initiative dedicated to studying how sensors and handheld electronics are transforming urban environments, and that develops tools based on this research. They have been working on the Copenhagen Wheel for years as part of the Lab.

The wheel has a discrete “hub” filled with a small motor, 3-speed internal hub gear, batteries, a torque sensor, GRPS, and a sensor kit that collects data about air and noise pollution, congestion and road conditions, humidity, and temperature.

The wheel measures your effort. It captures energy you input while cycling and braking, and stores it for when you need a boost — for example, when there is a huge hill in front of you or if you start to feel tired. You can ask it track calories and use the app to plan bike routes and achieve fitness goals.

As if that wasn’t cool enough, the Copenhagen Wheel connects to your smartphone so you can lock/unlock the bike, change gears, select how much the motor assists you, and view real-time information about the external conditions.

Bicycles are awesome (this is my expert assessment). Riding them is good for the environment, good for the body, and cost-effective. They are the most common form of transportation in the world, used by people from across geographies and the socio-economic spectrum.

Glorious as they may be, bicycles aren’t ideal for all conditions. Even avid bikers may opt for other forms of transportation when faced with a hilly ride or long distances. By easily turning regular bicycles into motorized vehicles, Biderman said Superpedestrian’s goal is to make “hills feel flattened” and “distances shrunk” so people can and do ride anywhere on their bike.

The sensors and apps also serve to create a network that connects cyclists with each other and gives them greater connection to their bikes and the city. People can share data with their friends or with their city to create a database of environmental information. This data could help cities gain greater insight into resource allocation and how policies affect the lives of their residents.

“Smart devices” for bikes are proliferating rapidly, particularly on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Just last week, a startup called FlyKly released a new Smart Wheel that works together with iPhone, Android, and Pebble smartwatch apps to control your speed, offer statistics and serve as an anti-theft solution. The apps can lock the wheel from functioning, and they show the bike’s location via GPS in case it gets stolen.

Electric bike conversion kits are traditionally pretty clunky, with external wiring and bulky battery packs, and FlyKly and Superpedestrian are working on models that are not only more subtle, but more fully-featured as well.

Superpedestrian has a bit of an edge here. The Copenhagen Wheel was unveiled in 2009 at the United Nations Climate Conference and has won multiple design awards as well as widespread media attention.

In addition to MIT, it also has support from Ducato, the Italian Ministry for the Environment, and Spark Capital, which led its funding round with participation from Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp.

Superpedestrian will introduce the product in late November.

It is based in Cambridge, Mass.


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