Electric Currents

The Street, the Cloud, and the Connected Electric Bicycle

Mar 07, 2015

From Ford Motor Company's pronouncements in Barcelona, it's obvious they see the electric bicycle as an increasingly important element in urban mobility. So maybe now is the time to start a serious conversation about their future in the city, a future of where connected ebikes are moving a healthier population.

This past week, Ford Motor Company rolled out a pair of electric bikes, one dubbed MoDe:Me, along with its sibling, the MoDe:Pro. They were the result of a company-wide competition that produced some 100 entries. The Me was developed in collaboration with Dahon, while the Pro was built by Ford engineers. Both are electric, powered by 200 Watt hub motors, 9 Amp hour batteries and offer a top motor-assist speed of 25 km/h; the legal limit in Europe.

prototype bamboo/aluminum electric bike

What sets these bikes apart, however, is their connectivity. According to Ford's official press release the bikes offer these features to future riders:

Navigation: Handle-bar grip vibrations let the rider know when to turn. Turn signals are triggered automatically for safety. The [MoDe: Link] app can identify bike-friendly roads, hazards and alerts, and will be able to sense, and communicate with other vehicles

Multimodal navigation and smart routing: Integrates journey planning with personal vehicle and public transportation networks, which can be filtered by cost, time, and amount of biking. Map includes weather, parking costs, and charging stations

Speed and comfort: Electric pedal assist rate can be adjusted based on heart rate, “No Sweat” mode reduces the requirement to pedal, allowing riders to arrive fresh at their destination

SYNC compatibility: While the e-bike is stowed and charging inside the vehicle, Ford’s SYNC voice-activated connectivity system shows the app on the vehicle’s display

Another Ford initiative in Europe is Info Cycle, described as "an open-source research initiative to gather information about how bikes are used in different urban areas." Notes the press release:

The project has been designed to enhance understanding of the biking ecosystem and to improve safety for cyclists, as well as exploring improved mapping, smart journey planning and community-based services. A sensor box on the frame gathers data such as wheel speed, acceleration, weather and altitude.

While Ford was showing off its connected eBike technology in Barcelona, here in Omaha, I was doing a bit of my own state-of-the-eBike-technology demonstrating.

The Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) invited me to exhibit my prototype bamboo and aluminum electric bicycle during the Young Professionals Innovation Fair and Summit. Attended by some 1,500 registered professionals, including my daughter, a biomedical research scientist, the lime green bike from Greenstar Bamboo Bikes in Minnesota, was one of the hits of the event, attracting lots of "young professionals" who wanted to learn more about it.

prototype bamboo/aluminum electric bike

As I explained to them, I was the international 'matchmaker' in this project, bringing together the ZeHus Bike+ all-in-one electric hub motor from Italy and the Chinese-made, single speed road bike, creating, in the process, one of the world's lightest electric bicycles at just 32.2 lbs. (14.6kg). Perhaps even more impressive, you control the bike with your smart phone. "Yes, there is an app for that."

Of course, for most, this was their very first encounter with an electric bicycle of any kind, so they were curious about how it worked, what it did.

I explained it this way. According to Bicycle Science by David Wilson, the average person generates about 75 Watts of power when pedaling a bicycle, or the equivalent of one-tenth of a horsepower. A topflight, competitive cyclist can muster, on a sustained basis, somewhere around 250-270 Watts during the Tour de France, for example. The maximum rate, achievable by the very best riders and only for short bursts of speed is around 375 Watts.

Pointing to the pedals on the bike, I said, you and I can do 75 Watts, but when the motor senses we're struggling against a headwind or a hill, a phantom pro rider appears behind us, like on a tandem bike, and gives us an added 250-350 Watts of assistance.

They all seemed to like that idea, many picking up one of my business cards. The reaction of these "Generation X" and GenY/Millennials was eye-opening. I had assumed that it would be baby boomers who would be most interested in getting a little help while riding. It now seems the audience for this bike is wider than I had assumed.

But something else emerged from the Summit: the idea of a symposium dedicated to exploring the intersection between eBikes, biometrics, telematics, aging, wellness, rider safety, public transit, and urban planning. I've had some very preliminary discussions on this locally this week, especially with the two exercise physiology professors who took my proposal under wing at the University of Nebraska Omaha, producing the first US study on the impact of ebikes on human physiology. They both seem to like the symposium idea. It also would seem from what Ford announced in Barcelona that they too are thinking along similar lines.

As a result, I'd like to start a dialogue with any readers interested in sharing research, experiments, hardware, and policy ideas through a one or two-day symposium devoted to the science of light electric vehicles or LEVs. Some of the questions I think need asking and answering are:

The goal will be to better understand how we can accelerate the fusion of bicycles, in general, and eBikes, in particular, into the larger transportation system as a way to enhance their convenience, our collective wellness, and the community's overall sustainability. Drop me a line at editor@evworld.com. Let's help make this happen not just during a conference in Spain, but daily, globally.

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