Copenhagen Wheel by Senseable City Lab 13.12.10

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(image: Max Tomasinelli)

MIT Senseable City Lab’s wheel uses stored energy to electrify conventional bikes, and collects environmental data every time it’s taken out for a ride

It turns out the wheel did need reinventing after all. As designed by Senseable City Lab at MIT in Massachusetts, the Copenhagen Wheel both converts conventional bikes into electrical ones, and provides information about the cyclist's surroundings, such as pollution levels and road conditions.

"It started through a partnership with the city of Copenhagen," says Carlo Ratti, director of Senseable City Lab. "We were working with them towards the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen last year. The question was: how could pervasive computing make cities more sustainable? That's how we ended up looking at bikes."

The technology behind the Copenhagen Wheel is similar to the kinetic energy recovery system used in Formula One. Just as the heat created by hitting the brakes of a racing car can be captured and converted into a more useful kind of energy, the same principle can be applied to cycling. "When you brake, your kinetic energy is recuperated by an electric motor and then stored by batteries within the wheel, so that you can have it back when you need it," explains Ratti.

But there's more to the design than simply giving cyclists a bit of a boost when they're going uphill. Mounted sensors collate data on pollution levels, traffic congestion and road conditions, which can be sent automatically to the user's cell phone and used to plan future routes.

Assaf Biderman, associate director of Senseable City Lab, believes the wheel's capacity to map its environment will have considerable civic benefits. "As bikers collect and share air quality data, cycling becomes more than a clean mode of transport. It opens yet another door for citizens to participate in governance and the maintenance of public resources."

The Copenhagen Wheel clips in simply in place of a conventional back wheel, its mechanics nesting discreetly inside the hub. A stellate of loop-shaped spokes connects directly only to the wheel rim; unlike traditional designs, they simply press against the hub, and are held in place by grooves. The wheel will come in a variety of colours.

The Copenhagen Wheel is expected to enter production in 2011 and Senseable City Lab hopes that it will contribute to Copenhagen becoming carbon neutral by 2025.



Oliver Stratford

quotes story

The question was: how could pervasive computing make cities more sustainable? That's how we ended up looking at bikes

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credit Max Tomasinelli

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