Mass. start-up reinvents wheel

Onboard motor transforms bicycle into electric-hybrid

12/19/2013
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Assaf Biderman, co-inventor of the Copenhagen Wheel, shows off his human/electric hybrid engine built into a bicycle's back wheel. The device packs sufficient power to propel a rider up to 37 mph.
Assaf Biderman, co-inventor of the Copenhagen Wheel, shows off his human/electric hybrid engine built into a bicycle's back wheel. The device packs sufficient power to propel a rider up to 37 mph.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A Massachusetts start-up is launching a new device that transforms almost any bicycle into an electric-hybrid vehicle using an app on a smart phone.

The device, called the Copenhagen Wheel, is installed as part of a rear hub of a bike wheel and is packed with a proprietary computer, batteries, and sensors that monitor how hard a rider is pedaling and activate an onboard motor whenever support is needed.

The device uses wireless connectivity to communicate with the biker’s smart phone to track distance traveled and elevation gained, share with friends the number of calories burned, and lock the wheel remotely as soon as the owner walks away from the bike.

“The motor integrates itself with the rider’s motion very, very seamlessly,” said Assaf Biderman, who co-invented the device at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SENSEable City Lab, where he is associate director. “It’s almost like having a riding companion riding together with you, making the ride easier, simpler.”

The combination of power from the Copenhagen Wheel and the cyclist’s energy can make an average biker move “almost like a Tour-de-France-level athlete in your daily commute,” said Mr. Biderman, who founded SuperpeSuperpedestrian Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., and secured an exclusive license for the technology from MIT.

The Copenhagen Wheel packs sufficient power to propel a rider up to 37.28 mph, but developers have put speed limits in software to meet local speed limits, effectively turning off the motor once the speed reaches 20 mph in the United States and 25 kilometers in Europe.

The concept was inspired by a simple question: “How can we get more people to cycle?” Mr. Biderman said.

Mechanical and software engineer Julian Fong works on the Copenhagen Wheel, the red disk that is a human/electric hybrid bicycle engine. The wheel was developed at Superpedestrian Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
Mechanical and software engineer Julian Fong works on the Copenhagen Wheel, the red disk that is a human/electric hybrid bicycle engine. The wheel was developed at Superpedestrian Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

The project received funding from the Italian ministry of the environment and office of the mayor of Copenhagen, a Danish city known as one of the world’s most bicycle-friendly locations. Its tourism Web site says 55 percent of its residents together bike 750,000 miles every day.

The initial 1,000 units of the Copenhagen Wheel became available for order through the Superpedestrian Web site earlier this month. Two weeks later, at least 810 had been sold for $699 each, the majority of them to customers in the United States. Other orders went to Europe, Australia, Kenya, Madagascar, and elsewhere. Shipping is scheduled for next spring.

The Copenhagen Wheel does not replace a cyclist’s bicycle. Consumers get the stylish hubcap-sized device installed on a new rear wheel that fits their bicycle. They remove the wheel from their bike and install the souped-up unit, and they are ready to go. The batteries are rechargeable.