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.
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.