MIT debuts the Copenhagen Wheel


December 17, 2009

The hub contains batteries, a motor, gears and a range of sensors

The hub contains batteries, a motor, gears and a range of sensors

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Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's SENSEable City team have chosen the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change to show off a new bicycle wheel prototype which not only provides electric rider assist, but also contains "a veritable Swiss army knife's worth of electronic gadgets and novel functions", including sensors to monitor air quality and noise pollution, GPRS and Bluetooth connectivity.

Unlike other electric assist solutions, the Copenhagen Wheel can be fitted to an existing bicycle. As the rider pedals away, the hub harvests energy from movement and braking and stores it for later use in the internal batteries. The hub also contains an electric motor (naturally), 3-speed gears and an array of sensors to give the cyclist information about his or her surroundings.

Sensing the environment

Environmental sensors detect and report carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and noise levels. The rider is provided with relative humidity and ambient temperature readings and the hub also includes a torque sensor and GPRS for speed, distance traveled and route information. The tech can even detect the presence of friends in the local vicinity.

As there is no external wiring, all of this information and more is transmitted via Bluetooth to the rider's smartphone (which can be secured to the bike's handlebars). Whether a bit of a boost is needed or it's just a case of taking it easy for a while, the smartphone is also used to control the level of motor assist and the gears as well as locking and unlocking the wheel. In essence it looks like an earlier MIT offering has received quite a bit of an upgrade.

In an interesting safety twist, bikes fitted with a Copenhagen Wheel could even alert owners if someone attempts theft and send back location reports, the project's Assaf Biderman explains: "the Wheel has a smart lock: if somebody tries to steal it, it goes into a mode where the brake regenerates the maximum amount of power, and sends you a text message. So in the worst case scenario the thief will have charged your batteries before you get back your bike."

Impressing the locals

The innovation has been well received by the locals, Ritt Bjerregaard, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen commented: "Our city's ambition is that 50 percent of the citizens will take their bike to work or school every day. So for us, this project is part of the answer to how can we make using a bike even more attractive."

Riders could even benefit directly if discussions about a reward scheme come to fruition. "One of the applications that we have discussed with the City of Copenhagen is that of an incentive scheme whereby citizens collect Green Miles - something similar to frequent flyer miles, but good for the environment," says Christine Outram, who led the team of MIT researchers.

It is hoped that a production version of the wheel will be available next year, pricing is unknown but is thought to be "competitive" with standard electric bikes. If the definition of "standard" is an Elmoto or Mosquito then it could be pricey, but if it is more in line with, or cheaper than the likes of the Gocycle, then it will no doubt attract much more interest.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

It says there are 3 gears... how do you switch gears though with no external wires? I know there are internally geared hubs that allow you to switch gears by pedaling backwards lightly. Is that how this works, or do you have to switch gears using your smartphone?

Antoine Planche

i think the torque sensing unit may have alot to do with that. it wouldn\'t be hard to make that automatically controlled... especially if you\'re MIT

John Schneider

There are many automatic hubs out there so I\'d assume that this one is automatic... Switches gears based on wheel speed and possibly chain torque.

Dan K

This is obviously another, perhaps more advanced green wheel. Or rather a green wheel with extras you do not really need or care for ...for extra cost. And as usual, it is always only some six months or so away from production.

If only they delivered on those vain promises!!! Just try google \"buy green wheel\" and see what you get...(my favorite is a nice thingy from Target of a particular color).

They made their commitment to \"several hundred dollars\" back then. With Copenhagen brand ...well, the price is going also Copenhagen...and availability - if ever, well, first in Copenhagen.

Well done MIT. Always bleeding edge.


While I like that it has no external wires and uses a smartphone app as its controller, this is not the only electric assist solution that can be fitted to existing bicycles:


Does it also work with Wii? \"pilot to gearbox, pilot to gearbox, come in, gearbox do you read me?\" I\'m sorry, that number is not in service..., please call back later\" because they can\'t allow direct com, unless its one of the bluetooth etc frequencies...meaning others can easily hack it...But hey, with GPS and friends in vicinity, they will be alerted and capture it and call you right back

Now my real gripe_ auto tranys. You know, the ones that remain cluless as you approach a challenge that your brain says \"shift before you get there, don\'t get stuck like last time...\" but the auto waits until it finally realizes it needs to do something...and by now your knees are is serious pain from trying to keep going. But perhaps these are faster, and perhaps they are not self determining of when, but only automatic respondes to your input?

I had this derailer for the front reached down and threw a lever. The other end was the derail mechanism. It was called \"simplex\" ah for those days


Horrible horrible rear spoke design. The bent part of the spokes are just hooked to the cut out \'tongues\' of the hub so it just hangs there, no mechanical strenght, not enough tension at all that will make the wheel stiff whatsoever. Why didn\'t they just make a normal conventional flange for it so any normal spokes can be cut and threaded by your local bike shop if replacemnts are needed?

The hubs can be made easier in a CNC mill and there will be less pain and headache for the user down the road from riding a wobbly wheel.

Did these bright MIT students ever studied the reliable conventional bicycle spoke tensioned hub design and wonder why it hasn\'t changed and proven itself for almost 100 years?

Oh wait they\'re MIT students they must be geniuses, since sweatshops in China has now produced thousands of these in-wheel bicycle hubs that cost only a few tens of dollars a pop from Alibaba so bike assemblers can take normal spokes and put them together with no problem like we have for almost a hundred years.

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