Monday, June 19, 2017

The Copenhagen Wheel ... e-power comes to bicycles

The idea of adding electric power to wheeled motion is a hot topic these days, as people tackle ways of promoting carbon-free or carbon-light transit.  In the realm of the bicycle, this phenomenon is taking many different shapes as people want to move around quicker and cleaner, and an aging cohort of bikers may be seeking new ways of moving around on two wheels. 

Superpedestrian, a Cambridge startup, asked itself what this new bicycle might look like and they came up with something they call the Copenhagen Wheel, a bright red disk that sits in the rear hub and provides additional power and speed to the rider. 


The Wheel marries technologically advanced robotics to the very simple mechanical motion of pedaling, and after years or research, the company thinks they have found their sweet spot. Assaf Biderman, founder and CEO, described it this way in an interview earlier this year, “We set ourselves an ambitious goal: integrating with a rider’s body in a way that makes you feel naturally stronger. It took over three years of engineering, but I can finally say we made that dream a reality.”


Still, it took years to transform a good idea to workable product. From its earliest days as a spinoff of the SENSEable City Lab at MIT, the first version of the Wheel, which appeared at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit (from where it gets its name), cost $330,000 to make and weighed 42 pounds. In the intervening years, designers put it on a diet, bringing its weight down to 17 pounds and its price down to $1,499. They also shortened its production time to four weeks. A measure of the company's current success is a doubling of their workforce in the last twelve months.

It's interesting to hear Austin Federa, a manager at Superpedestrian, emphasize that it is not a bicycle company, it’s a robotics company. The hub provides additional power by sensing what the rider is doing and reacting before the rider can perceive it. 

The company’s origins in the MIT lab play a big role in this. There, students and faculty alike reimagine the city and try to peer into the future about the ways it is changing. “That is just the way of thinking at the lab - to create a platform to study the city and how people are moving around it,” said Umberto Fugiglando, a graduate student looking at data retrieval in cars. Autonomous vehicles, he points out, are another example of a technology that will have huge implications not just not just for transit but also for parking and roadway allocation. That in turn will impact bicycle travel too.

Back at Superpedestrian, in a nondescript building on Hamilton Street,

 

a room full of engineers and product specialists is working to grow this company and get this technology on the street. 



Bikes are lined up, ready to go for a ride, and these bikes will haul. The Wheel will assist a rider up to 20 mph, (any faster, and the vehicle would have to get a license plate), and on a full charge, the battery can propel the bike 30 miles before it needs recharging. In addition, the Wheel is a data resource, talking to an app in your phone, and has different settings ranging from "Turbo," which offers strong acceleration, to "Exercise," which provides light resistance to help build cardio. While parts are sourced from different countries, the Wheels are assembled 30 miles away in Westford, Mass.



The potential applications of this new technology are many, though the company is in the early phases of building its brand. Its target consumer is an urban rider, but there are many others: bike-sharing companies, for one, like Hubway in Boston or Citibike in New York could add it as a component to their bikes, or police departments might find a use of bike patrol officers, giving them added range and speed as they move around a city. 

My initial ride was a thrill, and I hope to get back on a Copenhagen Wheel-ed bike soon, to see what it feels like over some distance.


To find out more about the Copenhagen Wheel, click HERE.

Monday, June 12, 2017

A short helicopter flight over Boston

I recently had the chance to take a short helicopter flight over downtown Boston. Here's a video I made of the trip.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Trump fails the D-Day test

In a fitting metaphor for everything that Donald Trump has accomplished in his first 130-some-odd days as president of the United States, yesterday was the 73rd anniversary of D-Day but it got nary a mention in our media-soaked environment.

D-Day has held revered status particularly among conservatives who view it as a time when America was unconditionally great. Nothing depicted that greatness better than Americans storming the beaches of Normandy to free a continent from a tyrannical regime. Indeed, Donald Trump tapped into this deep well of nostalgia when he ran in 2016. To emphasize his point, he sold cheap Chinese-made red caps to a segment of the American public, letting them believe that those days of glory would return under his guidance.

What the voters got instead was a president not even close to greatness or nostalgia. Donald Trump did not mention D-Day in any newsworthy way yesterday. He did not pause in any national way to draw our attention to the Greatest Generation. He did nothing significant to mark a day when America was an unconditional leader in world affairs.

Instead, Donald Trump spent June 6th battling against charges that he is corrupt, assailing his enemies and committing more fraud.

The day was consumed with speculation about what the fired FBI director would say in Thursday's testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump wished him "good luck," as if luck was what James Comey needed in detailing the obstruction of justice charge against him. He then attacked the London mayor by misrepresenting his words, further leading his critics to question his mental stability. And finally, Trump undermined the legal argument his lawyers are making that his travel ban wasn't a travel ban, when he tweeted that it was.

In other words, Donald Trump didn't take the opportunity to mention anything about what made America great in the past, a past that he was going to bring back to our beleaguered country.

Instead, he reminded everyone what a small man he is. And how he is making America a very small country again.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MIT and the Kendall Square innovation district, redux

An interesting assertion about the federal government's fundamental role in the development of the innovation district in Kendall Square ...
Since MIT had the oldest and most distinguished electrical engineering department in America, yet much less money than Ivy League universities, the institute was much more open to conduct contract research wth the government or with private firms. Such contractural co-operation created the basis for the exponential growth of the institute from federal funding during World War Two and the Cold War. 
(from a 2013 masters thesis in urban planning about Kendall Square)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Visiting the Hull wind turbine with Mass Energy

Two weeks ago on a sunny Saturday morning, I boarded a boat at Rowe's Wharf in Boston with 250 other people to go and see the wind turbine in Hull, MA.

Mass Energy organized the event as part of their educational efforts around green, clean power and electric vehicles.

Here is my video of the trip:




Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cambridge River Festival 2017

Cambridge Arts hosted its annual River Festival off of Land Boulevard yesterday, and the mix of music, food and festivities worked very well together. The new venue didn't disappoint either, with good walking space and fine niches for music listening. Security concerns were undoubtedly high after the Manchester bombing, and the presence of state and local police, as well as the security staff of the Cambridgeside Galleria was noticeable.

All in all, a fine day. Well done Cambridge.















Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday Grab Bag: Ultimately, he's just a slob; In Memoriam

It's Friday, so it's the Grab Bag. 

Ultimately, he's just a slob

Walter Shapiro, columnist for Roll Call, talking about Donald Trump ...
I keep coming back to Dorothy Parker's description of Warren Harding, another scandal-prone president, who said, "Ultimately, he's just a slob." And there is a quality of just slovenliness to this entire administration from Donald Trump on down. But the difference is, in the 1920s America was not a nuclear power.  The president didn't have to worry about what was happening on the Korean peninsula. Now we are in a situation where there is still unprecedented power resting with the President of the United States and from day to day we have no idea if anyone in the White House is either up to the responsibilities or fails to realize that they're not up to the responsibilities.
from an interview on The 11th Hour with Brian Williams5/30/2017 


In Memoriam

Kudos to the Cambridge Department of Veterans Services for hosting last Monday's Memorial Day ceremonies at the Cambridge Cemetery. The crowds were sparse and the weather damp and cold, but the parade, the reviewing stand, the speeches all proclaimed Americana and celebration but also memory and sacrifice. None achieved this more than the ceremonies around Ronald Sparks, a Cambridge-born Korean War dead whose remains were returned to the city last year. His nephew remembered the night that Ronald came to say goodbye to the family before shipping out, and he remembered his father's lifelong quest to bring his uncle's body home.















Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 
      Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle 
Can patter out their hasty orisons. 
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,— 
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; 
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires. 

What candles may be held to speed them all? 
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes 
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. 
      The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; 
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

-Wilfred Owen