From an awareness campaign to a spin-off company: Assaf Biderman of MIT's SENSEable City Labs presents the Copenhagen Wheel that turns an ordinary bike into a smart electric hybrid.
Assaf starts off with sharing some numbers on the significance of personal urban mobility. Why urban? Cities cover 2% of the earth inhabitable crust. More than 50% of us live in cities. 75% of energy worldwide is consumed in cities or in the infrastracture that services them. And 80% of CO2 emmissions take place in cities or their infrastructures.
Mobility is a key aspect of urbanisation. It has an economic and environmental impact. It also influences indicators of people's happiness. The problem is cities have become very crowded. In the US alone, 5 1/2 billion hours are spent in traffic every year. And cities keep on growing, so the demand for new transport solutions is rising.
We already do see a bicycle renaissance. Cities adopt bicycle sharing systems and cycling increasingy becomes part of people's daily commute. However, cities have grown so big that we cannot move through them without motorized transport.
Electric bikes, on the other hand, are very clunky and quite expensive. So Assaf and his team at MIT had the idea to develop a wheel that you could just put on your average bike to transform it. We have seen a transformation of technologies in recent years, everything gets connected, cars come with smart sensors. An increasing number of objects can be controlled via apps. "You can start to think about the city as a computer in the open air."
So Assaf and his team wanted to make use of this transformation. They developed the so-called "Kopenhagen Wheel" that comes with a built-in motor, sensors and a control system. As you ride, the motor automatically kicks in. It learns how you paddle so that it integrates seamlessly to your motion. It captures your energy when you don't need it, for instance when you break or go downhill and you can also paddle backwards to charge your battery. You can use a smartphone app to customize your ride as well as monitor your physical activity. The build-in sensors can also gather information from your environment. As a developer, you can build further customized cycling apps.
They presented a prototype at the keynote of the UN climate summit 2009, attended by 150 mayors of the largest cities of the world. It got great feedback and was further developed during the next 2 years. As the project received so much interest – they got about 30000 emails of people requesting to buy it – Assaf founded Superpedestrian to take the technology outside of university and into serial production.
His colleague brings up a hybrid bicycle to present the wheel for the first time in public. Assaf closes his presentation with reflections on the current technology shift: Today, we don't only sense and quantify things, we also close the feedback loop and actuate objects so they become active and respond to us. "This has the capacity to really have a dramatic impact on our lifestyles. It has the potential to address some of the key problems that we are facing today."