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Smart Wheel Keeps On Turnin’

October 14, 2010

MIT has a New Take on an Old Tech

Bicycles are not only a fun form of transportation, some claim bikes are the most efficient machines ever made.  And like the oft overlooked simple barcode, bikes have had a profound and positive impact on how we live.

As kids our bikes we’re often the first complex machines that we were “ours.” We used them to travel beyond the comfortable familiarity of our neighborhoods to explore strange new worlds. And in many cases, repair and  maintenance of bikes was our early hands-on introduction to machines and mechanisms. A boy and his bike, a balance of sweet Zen harmony and disquietous adventure.

Although, I believe the first simple mechanism I figured out was the toilet paper holder. This naturally occurred whilst on the toilet awaiting another one. I was intrigued by the elegance of the spring and arbor spindle solution.

Early Wonders of Simple Machines

The wheel has certainly played an ionic roll in man’s history of invention and innovation. And while it is a common axiom to not waste time trying to re-invent the wheel. It is not always good advice and does not stop youthful inventors and entrepreneurs.

MIT’s Copenhagen Wheel a Biker’s Electric Friend (BEF)

Max Tomasinelli, Photographer

As an advocate of in-wheel motors or wheel hub motors I have covered several designs in my EV posts. Therefore, I was happy to see this new tech developed by a student team out of MIT’s SENSEable City lab.

Roll on for wheel article and video ahead.

In a great article in Fast Company Design by Cliff Kuang. He interviews Christine Outram, who led the Copenhagen Wheel design team. She told him.

The project started at the SENSEable City Lab at MIT, which usually collaborates with cities and telecoms and other places with extra data lying around, with the goal of creating a vision for the city in 15 years. The city of Copenhagen saw something called the Real-Time Rome, which used cell-phones and GPS monitors on busses to look at how people and public transport are interacting. They wanted to buy it, but being a university, the lab couldn’t really sell the project to them. So we agreed to take a look at Copenhagen, to see how technology could improve on the city…

Inside of the hub, there’s a 250 watt motor. And when you pedal, there are sensors in the wheel that detect torque. So once the torque sensor detects a certain amount of exertion, it knows to supplement your pedaling. So if you’re going up a hill, you get more an assist. The idea is not that you stop pedaling and the motor takes over — you’re always pedaling, and the feeling is like having a friend pedaling with you…

So we started with a design brief, that had four main criteria: 1. All of the components should fit in the hub. 2. It should be easily retrofitable and modular, so that you could plug in different components such as a bigger battery if you live near hills or environmental sensors if you’re a city looking to gather data. 3. It should be your friend, and be able to tell you how well you’re doing. 4. It should have a social component that connects with your friends and encourages you to cycle. Read full article…

The wheel can be linked to smart phones and the city’s wireless network to provide location, traffic and communication services. Making it a part of future Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).

The wheel is still under development but is expected to cost around $600 when it gets to market. Bikers will be able to replace their conventional rear wheels with the new Copenhagen Wheel to covert their old dumb bicycles to electric assisted smart bikes. One presumes the wheels will come equipped with anti-thief technology, like Lojack or Jack in the Beanstalk’s Golden Harp.

Early Anti-thief Device

“Master, master! Wake up! A thief is taking me away!” The giant woke up  suddenly, was disorientated for a couple of seconds but then realized what was  happening and began chasing Jack. The boy ran as fast as he could and the harp kept calling out.


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