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17 December, 2012 - 23:00 By Tony Quested

Wireless bike offers ride into smart-tech future

The wireless bicycle was initially designed as a training tool for competitive cyclists to help improve performance and technique

A Cambridge innovation hothouse has created a wireless bicycle that could incorporate GPS and map data to change gear in anticipation of upcoming hills and a range of monitoring tools to ensure healthy riding.

But Cambridge Consultants says the invention is much more than science in the saddle – it’s a precursor of a whole range of future smart technology devices, it claims.

The UK company says the world-first automatic gear-changing bicycle – controlled by smartphone technology – is a symbol of what is possible in the onrushing smart-tech era.

The concept is being unveiled at a tech expo in Las Vegas early in the New Year.

The concept of internet-connected devices that collect data and communicate – known as the ‘Internet of Things’ – is ripe for the next disruptive technology, the company says.

It says that the potential of this emerging market is vast, with an estimated 50 billion devices expected to be connected by 2020. The wireless bicycle is an attempt to bring this smart-tech future to life today, according to Tim Ensor, business developer in the Wireless division at Cambridge Consultants.

He said: “The exciting part about smart technology is the unlimited possibilities to enhance a device and its applications. This wireless bicycle is a great example of the many ways we can continue to upgrade technology.

“We could incorporate GPS and map data into the application to make gear changes in anticipation of upcoming hills, for example, or include a heart-rate monitor and other measurement tools to help improve training. But it’s not just about the bike – connected systems have the potential to give all kinds of traditional products a new lease of life.”

In designing the demonstration device, the experts at Cambridge Consultants took a standard bicycle – equipped with an electronic gear-changing system – and wirelessly linked the gears to both manual controls and a smartphone application mounted on the handlebars, along with information from sensors measuring rate of pedalling (cadence) and wheel speed.

This combination of monitoring and control allows the system to make automatic gear changes under the control of a smart algorithm running on the smartphone. When a rider’s cadence rate slows, the application automatically sends a signal to shift into a lower gear: Bluetooth Smart – a low-energy version of Bluetooth – is used to wirelessly connect the system.

The wireless bicycle was initially designed as a training tool for competitive cyclists to help improve performance and technique. It would allow a rider in training to collect data and receive real-time coaching from the smart technology.

The technology could also be used more broadly with any consumer bicycle to optimise performance and make it more user-friendly – it is designed to help avoid gear combinations that put too much pressure on the chain and increases safety by automatically shifting down gears when the rider brakes too fast.

“We see a future where every product is smart,” said Ensor. “This bicycle demonstration shows how a combination of sensing, control, algorithms and connectivity can make a real difference to just one sector of the sports and fitness market.

“We see countless applications in different industries, and we are actively working on a number of projects that take a device and infuse our technology and design expertise to optimise the user experience.”

• Cambridge Consultants will be demonstrating the wireless bicycle technology – together with other innovations such as the Tê tea brewing machine – at CES 2013, from January 8-11 in Las Vegas.

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