MIT Bringing Smart Biking Project to Copenhagen; Prototype Hybrid Bicycle

Jose Michael

Exploded image of rear wheel of prototype hybrid smart bicycle. Battery, motor and electronics are all packed in the rear wheel. Click to enlarge. Credit: MIT

MIT researchers at its SENSEable City Laboratory have unveiled a project in Copenhagen aimed at transforming bicycle use, promoting urban sustainability and building new connections between the city’s cyclists. The project, called SmartBiking, will utilize a novel self-organizing smart-tag system that will allow the city’s residents to exchange basic information and share their relative positioning with each other.

As part of the project, a prototype of a smart bicycle is being developed in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab’s Smart Cities Group. This hybrid bicycle harvests the energy created when braking and releases it while cycling. All hybrid-drive elements, including the battery, are packed in the rear wheel, which becomes a self-contained component that could be retrofitted on most existing bicycles.

A considerable fraction of [Copenhagen’s] energy comes from renewable sources and, unlike a few decades ago, 30 to 40 percent of its citizens use bicycles as their primary method of transportation. So our challenge was, ‘How can we enhance these dynamics of sustainability? And how can we use technology to make them more widespread?’

—Carlo Ratti, Director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, which is overseeing the Smart Biking project

The smart tags will allow individuals to monitor the distance they travel while cycling as part of a citywide “green mileage” initiative, which is similar to a frequent-flyer program. Ultimately, fine-grained monitoring of urban activities could allow cities such as Copenhagen to enter carbon-trading schemes. Cities could obtain funding for sustainable city services in exchange for their efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions. The impact could be considerable, as cities account for approximately half of the world population, but are responsible for a much larger share of carbon emissions.

Beyond encouraging Copenhagen’s citizens to ride more often, the program aims to help them interact as well. A Facebook application called “I crossed your path” creates a social network for cyclists, allowing them to link up with people they may have ridden past during the day and potentially establish new connections, according to Christine Outram, the principal research assistant on the project.

The project will be implemented citywide in time for the November 2009 UN Climate Change Conference, which Copenhagen will host.

The Smart Biking Project is developed by the SENSEable City Laboratory, an MIT research group focused on technology and urban planning that is a part of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, together with the MIT Design Lab. In addition to professors Ratti and Mitchell, the team comprises Assaf Biderman, Francesco Calabrese, Michael Lin, Mauro Martino and Outram.

Concept of the MIT Wheel Robot. Click to enlarge.

Among the MIT Smart Cities Group’s projects is the CityCar, a stackable electric two-passenger city vehicle. The CityCar utilizes fully integrated in-wheel electric motors, energy storage integrated in the axle, and suspension systems called “Wheel Robots.” This technology is patented-pending and under design development at the MIT Media Lab.

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