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Scientists develop wireless braking for bicycles

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October 13, 2011

Professor Holger Hermanns with his prototype wireless bicycle braking system

Professor Holger Hermanns with his prototype wireless bicycle braking system

Given that wireless gear-shifting for bicycles has been around for the past few years, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that someone has now developed a wireless braking system. Created by computer scientists at Germany's Saarland University, the current prototype still looks a little boxy, but it does do away with cables and brake levers. According to computer algorithms that would normally be used in control systems for aircraft or chemical factories, the system should offer 99.999999999997 percent reliability - that means it would fail three times out of a trillion braking attempts.

The Saarland researchers have installed the system on the front wheel of a cruiser-type bicycle.

To activate the brake, the rider simply squeezes on the right-side rubber handlebar grip. This registers on a pressure sensor underneath the rubber, which in turn activates a small handlebar-mounted sending unit. That unit proceeds to send a radio signal to a receiver mounted on the end of the fork, which relays it to an actuator, which activates the disc brake. The harder that the grip is squeezed, the more firmly the brake is applied.

Professor Holger Hermanns with his prototype wireless bicycle braking system

Presently, the system is able to stop the bicycle within 250 milliseconds. At that speed, a cyclist traveling at 30 km/h (18.6 mph) would have to react at least two meters (6.6 feet) before the point at which they needed to stop. The scientists aren't satisfied with this figure, and believe that it would be relatively simple to add anti-lock and traction control functionality to the system.

Professor Holger Hermanns, who is leading the research, has been in contact with bicycle brake manufacturers and hopes to commercialize the technology. Even if the Saarland system never makes it to the marketplace, he believes that lessons learned from the project could be applied to larger-scale, more complex wireless systems in which failure must be kept to an absolute minimum.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
31 Comments

"The harder that the grip is squeezed, the more firmly the brake is applied."

Funny, that's exactly how the old-fashioned brakes on my Trek hybrid work! And they're probably a helluva lot less expensive.

Chuck Anziulewicz
13th October, 2011 @ 11:35 am PDT

No value added. Just more weight, complexity, and batteries that can go out on a down hill slope. Someone had too much time on their hands to waste on this idea.

Joseph J Shimandle
13th October, 2011 @ 12:43 pm PDT

No need to be sarcastic, Chuck. I suspect the point is that this is not a simple on-off solenoid, which one might assume for a simple electric brake. If they actually can add inexpensive antilock and traction control, it would be far better than any mechanical brake, including top of the line hydraulic disc systems.

Gadgeteer
13th October, 2011 @ 02:39 pm PDT

If the problem is cable brakes, I would think a fluid would work better and require no power other than the operator's grip. Power from a battery looks dubious. Antilock? Get real. The feature is not even useful for cars except for unskilled drivers who panic. I think I only laid down rubber streaks 2 times in over 20 years of driving a car. One was short which I backed off fairly quickly and one when...well...I did panic (Kids crossing at a light anticipating the walk signal but going early while I was trying to make the yellow. Thankfully, the screech of the wheels made them jump back. Ironically, if I had had antilock breaks there would not have been a screech and I very well might have hit one of the idiots. I simply did not have time to stop and antilock would not have stopped me in time either. Horn? Too fast ...no time to find that).

Ya know...I really can't see this as very useful. Perhaps a crash avoidance automatically breaking might be useful but...

You generally are not moving that fast on a bike and you know when you will be breaking and already have your hands on the breaks and the slack already taken up. Pushing them harder quickly...why the heck would you want to do that? Bikes are very top heavy...you just flip the bike if you squeeze like mad.

I once hit a car with my dad's tandem Schwinn (from the 60's) when I was a kid. Dang thing must have weighed 70 lb. It had rained the night before and I was going fast down a steep hill driving through all the puddles. When I finally saw I had to break there were no breaks because the rubber breaks were slipping on the metal rims from the water and mud. I really messed up that car...and my elbow. I turned the bike sideways and over sliding on the ground then when I hit, it quickly righted itself as my tires hit its slamming me into the side. I was a 190 lb 7th grader at the time. Must have be going about 45 mph. I was so shook-up I could not remember how old I was when the officer who came asked.

So I do like breaks away from the rim as it appears they have done here ;) They should just build breaks into the hubs. I had an old bike once that you just pushed the petal the other direction for breaking...very quick and reliable, but only the rear wheel...it was very prone to locking though. I can't see why they can't have something similar in two wheels where the one in the back is connected via a cable line to the front.

Mindbreaker
13th October, 2011 @ 04:59 pm PDT

Sooo, if I happen to be on the same frequency as some else nearby when they send out a radio signal to their brakes they will slow and I ... DIE!!!

Michael Gene
13th October, 2011 @ 05:38 pm PDT

Mindbreaker, wow. First, they're "brakes," not "breaks."

Uh, they've had hydraulic disc brakes with hub-mounted rotors for bicycles for many years now. Where have you been? In fact, you probably won't find a mountain bike costing over $2000 that doesn't have them.

As for antilock, it's widely agreed that antilock brakes are much more valuable on two-wheelers, namely motorcycles, which is why the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommended last year that they be made mandatory for all motorcycles sold in the US. When you only have two wheels, locking up one of them, especially the front, is a big deal. You write about danger of doing an "endo" over the handlebars if someone brakes too hard. Well, that would exactly be one of the benefits of antilock brakes, to keep that from happening.

Basically, absolutely everything you wrote says that you probably haven't ridden a bike in 50 years and barely know anything about them. It doesn't help that you call people idiots when you were trying to beat the yellow light, which happens to be illegal.

Gadgeteer
13th October, 2011 @ 09:05 pm PDT

Won't happen. Not even a mega company like Shimano was able to successfully market their electric derailleurs....which is something that I see is more useful than electronic braking.....on a bicycle??? I'm an intermediate biker and I cannot see any longterm benefits of an electronic braking system on a bicycle. If anything, it'll add more weight to the bicycle (battery, motors to control the brake calipers, circuit board, etc) vs. the short brake cable that was eliminated.

Sambath Pech
13th October, 2011 @ 10:05 pm PDT

nah, I'm a little skeptical about this... What's wrong with the traditional cable braking system? I mean, you cannot even afford 0.000000000003% of error when you're mountain biking downhill, what are the benefits of it being wireless anyway? I'm sorry but this is just wasting time!

Alex Cheng
14th October, 2011 @ 04:32 am PDT

@ Joseph J Shimandle: The problem of electronic brake control is the relation between the technical efforts and the practical gains. Some years ago Mercedes launched the SBC brake by wire system in certain high price cars like the SL. Back then they claimed that this system would enable them to implement certain features such as automatik parking brake during stop&go and such. Finally they had to admit that almost every thinkable feature was also possible in combination with usual hydraulic braking systems - which they stepped back to some years later.

I personally would love to see a bicycle brake system, which is able to store the energy produced by braking the bike down - and release it just a few seconds later when the rider wants to accelerate again.

Frank Kemper
14th October, 2011 @ 05:32 am PDT

Going 30km/h and your bike will stop in two feet? The grip idea is stupid.

Todd Edelman
14th October, 2011 @ 05:58 am PDT

Won't know til you try. First thing that crossed my mind was flipping someone over the handlebars if the brakes really do stop as quickly as they aim to accomplish. And maybe you'd be putting on the brakes while riding up a hill, as people tend to pull up on the grips while they're pumping harder... But those are all things that can be improved upon, if the system is put into use.

Gary R
14th October, 2011 @ 09:09 am PDT

As an engineer and a cyclist, I question the need to take a simple reliable system and make it magnitudes more difficult and expensive. What next - each time you apply the brakes it sends an update to your Facebook account? But I will admit, projects like this are cool in a geeky "garage project" kind of way.

botski
14th October, 2011 @ 09:34 am PDT

This makes about as much sense as drum brakes on a top fuel dragster.

DonFG
14th October, 2011 @ 10:53 am PDT

Technology for technology's sake. This just stupid when the current system works so well.

Nelson
14th October, 2011 @ 10:58 am PDT

I have to agree with a lot of the other comments - this seems like an excellent way to add weight, complication & expense to bicycles, which should be about exactly the opposite. Going slightly off-topic, re: Gadgeteer's comment about ABS on motorcycles, and proposals to make it mandatory in the US: the same is being proposed in Europe. It's an attempt to correct a basic design flaw with conventional motorbikes - short wheelbase and high centre-of-gravity = dramatic weight transfer under heavy braking. The simpler solution is to lower the rider.

axelowtl
14th October, 2011 @ 01:45 pm PDT

Wireless braking system. Why? Rube Goldberg would be proud.

A good engineer designs. A great engineer knows "Simplicity is the art of engineering".

Burnerjack
14th October, 2011 @ 03:31 pm PDT

I like cable controls, they are simple and easy to work on.

Slowburn
14th October, 2011 @ 06:08 pm PDT

might have seemed cool if it were a school project ...!!

replacing a low cost 100% safe option to a high cost and more complex option is not the solution...

i just hope that this is not that bearded guy's PHD project.!!!

SumoDes
14th October, 2011 @ 09:46 pm PDT

if the brake is on the front wheel of the bike like on the pic and you are going through town and then some kid grabs the break on purpose you will get hurt. there needs to be more signal restrictions and is the signal is weaker and uses less energy there would be more use of it. is it possible to use the momentum of the wheels to power the breaks? a system like this can fail in many different ways even if it has only three in a billion chance of failure. I have a old fashion bike with wires and I am happy with it. why can't things just stay the way they are? I mean the wires work so why change them?

ZareenK
16th October, 2011 @ 05:16 am PDT

Wow, what a bunch of Luddites.

"I like cable controls, they are simple and easy to work on."

I like my cable-actuated Avid BB7 disc brakes, too, but I do know and admit that riders on more demanding terrain may need the more powerful hydraulic disc brakes, even if they're a lot more hassle to maintain with all the seals, brake fluid bleeding and all that. You don't represent an entire market.

"replacing a low cost 100% safe option to a high cost and more complex option is not the solution... "

100% safe? Really? Nothing is 100%. Cables have snapped or pulled out of loose anchor bolts. Hydraulic brakes have blown seals. Brake pads have fallen out. Hot pads have faded to almost no stopping power on long downhills. Hot rims have softened tubular tire glue and let the tires roll off the rim. It seems most of the supposed brake "experts" here base opinions on occasional two-mile rides to the supermarket.

"The simpler solution is to lower the rider."

How? With recumbents? I've owned recumbents including an 80s-vintage Lightning, and I hate people who go around telling everyone recumbents are the perfect bike. They solve some problems but they do have some of their own. Among them, being low in city traffic is not an advantage.

Is this a perfect system? No. In fact, I'd much prefer a wired system just like I like to avoid wireless mice and keyboards. The fewer batteries, the better, and a hard link rather than RF would be much less susceptible to interference. But the people here who think "I don't need it based on my limited bicycling experience therefore it's useless" are quite myopic.

Gadgeteer
16th October, 2011 @ 09:18 am PDT

It might seem a useless idea, but the whole point of it being wireless is that someday, the system can be embedded to perhaps suit the shape of the bike, ride dynamics. See how the bike handle is already lever-less? A more elegant embedded braking system might even suit recumbent bikes better. Or that of a wheel chair.

For run-of-the-mill bike users, well, they can stick to cables.

Lensgypsy
16th October, 2011 @ 01:06 pm PDT

Back in the 90's, Toyota was demonstrating their drive-by-wire system which allowed a driver of a vehicle to be completely remote to the vehicle's driving system.

Toyota demonstrated this using city buses in Tokyo. During one such demonstration, with a bus loaded with passengers, the bus proceed to plow directly into a bus stop filled with people...it didn't stop...no matter what the driver did...not even turning off the key worked. The bus continued until it impacted an immovable object (a building) but the bus continued to attempt to go forward.

Turns out that a rogue CB radio (illegal in Japan) was using a signal booster which was interfering with the buses CAN and scrambling the signals traveling between the sensors and the individual computers. Toyota eventually fixed this by using fiber optics instead of copper wires, but this just goes to show...you may *THINK* you've thought of everything, but all it takes is that one thing you didn't think of and you're screwed....

Put me in the "bad idea" column.

Ed
16th October, 2011 @ 03:16 pm PDT

"Won't happen. Not even a mega company like Shimano was able to successfully market their electric derailleurs....which is something that I see is more useful than electronic braking.....on a bicycle??? I'm an intermediate biker and I cannot see any longterm benefits of an electronic braking system on a bicycle. If anything, it'll add more weight to the bicycle (battery, motors to control the brake calipers, circuit board, etc) vs. the short brake cable that was eliminated.

Sambath Pech- October 13, 2011 @ 10:05 pm PDT"

SERIOUSLY?? What rock have you been living under!?!? Shimano Dura Ace DI2 is all the rage, especially amongst triathletes. And now with the ultegra version coming out at 1/2 the price, it is really taking off for roadies. I expect the same for wireless brakes...

Jeff Black
16th October, 2011 @ 03:48 pm PDT

THis might be ok for cruiser bikes, but not for mountain bikers that ride hard. THis would clamp on the brakes first time you try a bunny hop or try to boost a jump, and would make for many many unnecessary crashes. FOr those who just must have the latest gadget, it would need to be made with conventional levers

foghorn
17th October, 2011 @ 06:26 am PDT

Ed,

Are you serious? Never try anything again if it fails once? I guess Edison should have given up long before he got a successful light bulb, as he was famously quoted as snapping at a reporter who asked about his progress, "Results? I have plenty of results. I know of 10,000 things that will not work!"

Jeff Black,

You beat me to it. There's also Fallbrook's upcoming Nuvinci Harmony fully automatic CVT for electric bicycles.

http://www.gizmag.com/nuvinci-harmony-cvp-ebike-transmission/19473/

Gadgeteer
18th October, 2011 @ 05:09 am PDT

I look forward to the wireless parachute actuator next.

You test it first.

phydeaux
19th October, 2011 @ 08:24 pm PDT

This is a great break through - even though it is not perfect yet. The idea that the every day rider could have a wire-less bike- breaks and gears is really cool! Repair shops will have to become higher tech!

scooter1
20th October, 2011 @ 06:41 am PDT

I once chose to take a crash and burn rather than run over a little kid. bloody and battered it took me two hours to get my bicycle back into rideable condition with a 6-inch adjustable crescent wrench and a Swiss Army super tool. I replaced the severed front brake cable with the cable from the front derailleur. Oddly enough I was able to put the derailleur back into service by splicing together the broken brake cable, and the excess cable I trimmed from the brake. (I used the nuts and bolts that held the drink holder in place.)

It is safe to assume that I could not have done the same with a damaged hydraulic or wireless system.

Slowburn
21st October, 2011 @ 12:03 am PDT

"I replaced the severed front brake cable with the cable from the front derailleur."

"It is safe to assume that I could not have done the same with a damaged hydraulic or wireless system."

Uh, Slowburn, if you had a wireless system, you wouldn't have had any kind of cable that would need to be spliced. Also, an awful lot of cyclecomputers aren't wireless, yet broken wires on those aren't a common problem, even in accidents. Besides, there was no reason you desperately needed to fix that on the road. You have two brakes. Ride home at a more prudent speed than what got you in trouble and your rear brake would stop you just fine.

Gadgeteer
23rd October, 2011 @ 08:28 am PDT

Weight and radio noise seem to be real issues. Photo optic connectors may be preferable to wireless links. Solenoids or linear motors to engage brakes are quite reliable. Better yet are dynamic braking hubs which are anti-locking and return electrical energy for lights or a small starting boost.

Grant-53
27th October, 2011 @ 05:53 pm PDT

My lawyer told be to buy one of these right away, but I'm not sure why.

Burnerjack
10th November, 2011 @ 02:54 pm PST
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