The Copenhagen wheel: the electric bike meets the iPhone
Can a red disc also be a white elephant?
What did you want from the United Nations Conference in Copenhagen? If it was a concensus on the need to act on climate change and the political will to make a real and lasting difference, then hey. There's always the next one. If, however, you were hoping for a a funky red back wheel that you could plug into your iPhone – well, it's your lucky day.
Enter the Copenhagen Wheel. Inside the gaudy lozenge is a motor, a battery, a GPRS unit, a bunch of other environmental sensors, a torque sensor and a three speed hub. And what to do with all this technology? Well, link it via bluetooth to your iPhone, of course, and off you go. The motor gives you a hand up the hills and there's an F1-esque KERS unit to charge the battery when you brake. And that's not all...
"Controlled through your smart phone, the Copenhagen Wheel becomes a natural extension of your everyday life", say the creators. "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."
If all that seems a bit of a stretch to you – well, it does to us too. While it's admirable from a technological standpoint to create a motor system that's all contained in the hub, it's going to limit the battery capacity – and the appeal – outside the flat streets of the world's most bike-friendly city. And as for changing gears from your iPhone? We can't really see how that's ever going to be an improvement over a nice retro Sturmey Archer lever. If the iPhone can calculate your cadence and auto-shift, well that's handy. But again, you're using battery juice to do something you could do with your thumb.
And what of the environmental aspect? "As bikers collect and share air quality data, cycling becomes more than a clean mode of transport", say the designers. It opens yet another door for citizens to participate in governance and in the maintenance of public resources". We're not sure exactly what they're going to figure out, other than that the roads that have more traffic have higher levels of pollutants. We at road.cc already have a sensor for that kind of data. Our common sensor. Other useful features include traffic reports via your phone, which you won't need because you're on your bike and traffic doesn't really affect you.
One interesting aspect of the project is the idea that riders could collect 'green miles' for the cycling they do, and be rewarded via some sort of incentive scheme. This is a pretty good call but it seems counter-productive to limit it just to people who buy into the wheel concept – anyone with a GPS enabled device can track their bike mileage anyway, and thousands of people already do; that way you could extend the scheme to walking as well, which is even greener.
One last thing. You're telling us that someone who rides a white Cinelli fixed is going to fit this to their steed? Come on. That's the most far-fetched thing we've ever heard...