Design Knowledge Intermediary
Smart wheel for bikes
Assaf Biderman is the CEO of a Cambridge, Mass.-based startup called Superpedestrian, which includes among its backers Tony Fadell, sometime ‘godfather of the iPod and founder of the Google’s Nest thermostat. This week sees the hard launch in Europe of his Copenhagen Wheel, a device that promises to transform your cycling experience and—in due course—help solve the problem of moving billions of people to and from work every day without putting impossible stress on the environment.
The wheel consists of a rechargeable electric motor in a red hub, and can be retrofitted onto the rear wheel of any conventional bike, effectively turning it, on demand, into an e-bike that can take you up to 30 miles at speeds of 12-13 mph on one battery charge.
“We developed new sensors, controllers, and alloys to enable an e-bike that performs exactly like a traditional bike, but makes you 10-20 times stronger,” says Biderman. That combination of technology, controlled from a smartphone app, allows force to be generated completely synchronized with the pedal stroke, he says. Pedal, and the energy is amplified automatically; brake, and the kinetic energy is stored in the battery. The result, Biderman claims, is something that is “sexy, affordable and fun to use.”
As Biderman sees it, one of the strongest arguments for innovations such as his is that cars, as they are designed today, can’t solve the problems of urbanization, even if ride-sharing as a model takes off as many expect it to (the same logic is behind the rash of investments in flying taxi projects this year by the likes of Uber, Germany’s Daimler and China’s Tencent).
The proportion of humans living in cities is set to rise from 54% today to 66% by 2050, according to the UN, and even if one allows for a big increase in urban mass transit networks, it’s hard to see how today’s city grids will be able to cope even in the U.S., let alone in places like London or Rome. Ultimately, Biderman reckons, the e-bike has more to offer in terms of users’ control over their personal space, and their ability to defeat congestion.
“You have to optimize the vehicle,” he says. “You’re not going to fill a five-seater all the time.”