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Turn Any Bike into an eBike

The electric powered bike has been in existence since 1881, with the Trouvé Tricycle. However, it was not until 1995 that the modern electric bike era came into being. Around this time, there was a confluence of several technologies: the pedal assist system, neodynium magnets and lightweight Lithium-ion batteries. For more than 20 years, different manufacturers have released their own e-bikes with proprietary designs based on evolutionary ideas at different price points. The Copenhagen Wheel is one of the few revolutionary concepts for an e-bike.

The Revolutionary Swappable Wheel

The Copenhagen Wheel is simply a wheel. It is not a bike per se, but it turns almost any bike into an E-bike by simply replacing the rear wheel. It contains a battery, motor, sensors and a computer. The pedal-assist drive mechanism helps the rider to pedal faster, or with more power, when needed.

Described as a semi-autonomous robot, it is able to read the rider’s intention and assist him by boosting power when needed.

The CEO and founder of Superpedestrian, Assaf Biderman, likens it to making the rider “feel naturally stronger.” The controls are sent via Bluetooth to an app on the smartphone, which is placed on a holder and stand nestling on the bike’s handlebars. 

The bike that knows what its rider needs

Besides controlling the Wheel, the app also records and monitors distance, duration, speed of each trip. The control allows the user to choose the assistance “level” off, standard, eco, turbo or exercise. Default mode is “standard”. If the rider needs an extra boost, he chooses “turbo”.

For more economical use of energy and less power, “eco” is chosen. The “exercise” mode provides the rider some workout, with the wheel adding resistance to the pedaling, and the harder the rider pedals, the stronger the resistance.

The Copenhagen Wheel converts an ordinary bike into an electric hybrid. The wheel swap can be done in minutes and after registering the smartphone app, the user is ready to go. It also serves as a personal trainer, it senses the effort put into pedaling and adds power on its own. It does not have a throttle to control the power. Instead it relies on the user pedaling. When the pedaling starts, the motor kicks in and helps with the pedal. It is intuitive enough to know when additional power is put on the pedal, especially when riding uphill, and more power is pumped into the motor. The added power is not a jolt but more of a gentle nudge and push. It is an assistive riding experience. When the rider stops pedaling the motor cuts out as well.

Look and Feel

The Copenhagen Wheel had its beginnings at the Senseable City Lab at MIT in 2009. The spin off became the startup named Superpedestrian and based in Cambridge, MA. The initial orders were taken in 2013, but full delivery to all the backers was fulfilled in March of 2017. By May, its production capacity was able to deliver Copenhagen Wheels within two to three weeks.

The actual wheel itself is a red, frisbee-sized axle for the rear wheel. This serves as the housing for the electronics, and mechanical parts. It has a range of 31 miles, and mileage will vary. On eco mode, it will last longer, up to 40 miles. Tackling hills, going against the wind, carrying more weight, as well as running on turbo will shorten the range.

Most pedal assist bikes have the motor powering the wheel when it is needed. The Copenhagen Wheel also enables the rider to send power back to the battery via backpedaling. The recharging is done by backpedaling. This slows down the E-bike, but does not halt it completely. For sudden brakes, or better deceleration, the brakes have to be used. This is almost the same technology – kinetic energy recovery system – used in Formula 1 cars and other hybrids. Although this cannot fully charge the battery, it does help prolong the battery life.

The price of the Copenhagen Wheel with the bike included is $2,000. However the Wheel can be bought separately and installed by the buyer on his own, and costs only $1,500. This may seem like a steep price, but it is still within the price range of affordable quality e-bikes. If you already have a frame, or half a bike, you can opt to buy the wheel only, and install it without any problem. There are only a few things to consider before replacing the rear wheel. The Copenhagen Wheel cannot be swapped with some bike sizes, and hence, cannot be swapped with them due to the length of the frame. In addition, it does not work with rear disk brakes. For the complete bike and Copenhagen Wheel, there are 18 different frames to choose from.

The Copenhagen Wheel and all its components: the frisbee-like cover, motor, batteries and computer weighs about 17 pounds. A complete E-bike could weigh as much as 30 pounds, so this is easily the lighter and more portable option. Having no charge on the battery will result in a serious workout. The imbalance between front and rear wheels means that it cannot be hung on a quiver. There are heavier E-bikes, but it is still not a good idea to carry this E-bike into the office.

A Closer Look at the App

The smartphone app serves as the control center for the Copenhagen Wheel. With the app, the user can lock the Wheel disabling any mobility, and preventing theft. Any thief would need to carry the bike instead of riding away with it. If the user runs out of charge on the smartphone while riding the E-bike, it has to be recharged first in order to turn off the motor. The app starts the motor, allows the rider to choose the mode and start pedaling.

The app also serves as a monitoring device. It reads values for effort, distance, duration of trip, trip speed, current speed, and battery life. It can also show a graph showing how much effort was expended, and how much energy was added. It gives real-time feedback about the rider’s fitness and exercise goals, if any. This is a bike, after all, and the E-bike is meant to assist in the ride.

It can also connect to other information to enhance the riding experience. This includes traffic congestion along the route, ride conditions and the area’s pollution levels. The user can keep the data in the app database. Alternatively, he can share the data with other Copenhagen Wheel users, or with friends on social media. The environmentally conscious crowd would be happy to know that the ride also counts “green miles” which is like a frequent flyer program, and is good for the environment.

Overall Experience

The Copenhagen Wheel is not a replacement for the racer or the mountain bike. It is a commute bike or a cargo bike, with a smart assistive motor system. It reads the effort of the commute and assists accordingly. It is meant to be fun, and great for the commute. It works great for city riding, and relaxed biking conditions. Overall, it is an elegant mode of transport and a great way to be mobile and physically active through the day. With all of its features and capabilities, this is a transport innovation that can make a bold impact in society in the years to come.

Crowd-Funded Sgnl Watch Band Raised $1.4M, Allows Users to Call from Finger

There was a time when cellphones were big and bulky, but they have evolved immensely since their introduction in 1983. Although today’s models are more portable, innovators have thought of the impossible: using the fingertip, literally, to make phone calls. This bold idea is bound to take the industry by storm, coming from a startup within Samsung Electronic’s in-house creative lab, C-LAB – Sgnl Watch Band.

Innomdle Lab (from the full name Innovation Medley) is the first spin-off startup from C-LAB, and they have successfully created Sgnl, their crowd-funded product that allows calls to come from a person’s fingertip through a smart strap.

The bold idea came from Choi Hyun Chul, the company’s CEO. “It felt inconvenient, I thought it would be embarrassing because everyone nearby could hear my conversation in real time,” he said. As he was trying to figure out how to overcome this problem, he found a way to turn his outrageous idea into reality.

Soon, he applied for Samsung’s C-LAB, and it was selected as the best in the competition program. Today, it has received a collective $2.2 million in funds, backed by thousands in both Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

A Phone in Your Finger

Sgnl, a South Korea-based product, was able to raise funds with as little as $1 per person, but pledges of $99 or more gives backers access to an entire Sgnl smart strap set. They have 8,117 backers in Kickstarter, and 3,508 in Indiegogo, proving the product popular as it is innovative.

Sgnl is a replacement watch strap with an embedded microphone with a feature that blocks out external noises, and then transfers incoming audio through the index finger that also blocks out any background noise the user might hear. This groundbreaking technology completely eliminates the need for taking out the cellphone to answer calls, deems the problem of losing earphones obsolete, and also makes phone calls clearer for both parties.

With only an initial target funding of $50,000 in mind, the impressive amount of backers and the millions of dollars in pledges allowed the realization of this inventive piece of tech. The Sgnl battery boasts of power enough to last a week.

This fingertip-powered technology allows its users to hear clearly, regardless of the noise level of their surroundings. As the unit receives a voice signal from the user’s phone via Bluetooth, it then vibrates via its Body Conduction Unit (BCU), then transmits the vibrations through the user’s hand and onto their fingertip. Because they are vibrations, they do not only allow for discreet phone calls, but also pose no medical harm to its user.

“With Sgnl, answering calls is direct and immediate. There is no need to rummage through bags or pockets when your phone rings. Users can simply place their finger on their ear to answer calls,” Innomdle Lab said.

This BCU works similarly to Kyocera’s audio boosting technology via hard tissue conduction from 2012, which transmits calls from a cellphone into a user’s ear eliminating the need for an in-ear speaker. However, Sgnl watch band’s tech is still a different bold idea that has been around for years, applying for Samsung’s C-LAB in May 2014, and then formally launching their Kickstarter and IndieGogo projects in August and October 2016 respectively.

What makes it different is that Sgnl works not only with smart watches like Apple Watch, Samsung Gear, and Pebble Time, but also on regular and classic watches, as long as they use the standard 18-24mm watch lugs. In lieu of this, the strap can also be worn on its own as a standalone wristband device. Because of its unique features and breakthrough tech, the strap has been featured in notable publications such as Business Insider, Geek, Mashable, and The Verge.

The Ups and Downs of the Trucking Industry

Businesses of all shapes and sizes have an obligation to provide their products and services to customers across different locations. And a better way to achieve that is by depending on the trucking companies for a safe, easy, and fast delivery.

Through the years, the trucking industry has played a vital role in the growth of the economy, that is why it would not hurt if the industry asked for a minor price increase from the shippers.

DAT Solutions LLC, an American freight exchange service that offers transportation information, has recently presented a report showing that carriers have been charging shippers for an average of 22% in order to move their freights from one place to another.

The increase in shipping is definitely going to have a bold impact not just to the drivers but to their respective companies as well. Every year, the trucking industry gathers more than $650 billion dollars, which is 5% of the GDP of the USA. These numbers only show that the demand for trucking companies are not declining, and is continuously growing instead.

The following are two well-known trucking companies whose shares have catapulted at record highs:

  • Werner Enterprises Inc. – Werner Enterprises was established in 1956 and is located in Omaha, Nebraska. The company is headed by Derek J. Leathers, the President, and CEO. Werner is a freight carrier, transportation, and logistics firm that offers supply chain solutions and freight management. The Nebraska-based freight company has a projected revenue of $2.1B.
  • Old Dominion Freight Line Inc. – Old Dominion Freight Line Inc. is a North Carolina-based company that works as a less-than-truckload motor carrier. The company runs an air and ground expedited transportation, container delivery, and truckload brokerage. David S. Congdon is the CEO of the company. It has an estimated revenue of $3.2B.

Lacking Truck Capacity and Truck Drivers

One of the reasons why the trucking industry is receiving a high demand for their service is the sudden flow of new businesses that require carriers to deliver their cargos. However, reality does not only revolve around the advantages that companies experience. In spite of the positive outcomes, the trucking companies are still having difficulties when it comes to adding truck capacities. Yes, the industry has extra revenues because they increase the delivery price, but instead of using it to add capacity, they utilize the money to pay for the drivers.

Another problem that the industry is facing right now is the shortage of truck drivers. The carriers might have available big trucks that could carry many loads but the lack of drivers is deeply hurting them.

ACT Research is the number one publisher of commercial vehicle industry data, strategic forecasting, and market analysis services. The publisher says carriers have been investing in new equipment. An estimated 37,500 huge trucks have been ordered in December 2017 to cater to the influx of demand.

However, Ravi Shanker, an Analyst with Morgan Stanley, asks an important question: “Can you find trucks? Can you find drivers? That is the biggest factor. You’re probably going to get a lot of freight but at the same time hiring drivers is going to be really hard.”

The demographics and lifestyle of truck drivers are two of the major reasons why there is a shortage in the position. The industry is always looking for male drivers who are 45 years old and above. This lowers the chances of aspiring truck drivers who are below the required age bracket to get jobs.

Their lifestyle is also a downfall. Delivering cargos non-stop limits the options of the drivers when it comes to their hygiene, nutrition, and sleep.

Meanwhile, the mandate of the federal Electronic Logging Device or ELD is the latest dilemma that truck drivers are facing. It literally affects their work, causing some to quit their jobs. Truck drivers are very much concerned that their privacy is being compromised.

In order to solve the issues surrounding the truck drivers, authorities should somehow create a law that allows carriers to raise the driver’s salary, lower the required age bracket, lessen the driver’s time on the road, and somehow use autonomous trucking, which Elon Musk is working on right now.

The business magnate has recently introduced the Tesla Semi Trucks that are both heavy-duty and all electric. The futuristic trucks could potentially benefit the drivers, making their job as easy as possible.

Trucking companies may be facing some minor issues but with the proper solution from the authorities, things will surely turn out to be just fine. The continuous growth seen from the industry is definitely creating a bold impact on the economy, especially in the United States.







India Announces New Plan to Help Farmers Stem Air Pollution

India’s capital Delhi has the dubious distinction of topping the list of the most polluted cities. A recent study also showed that the air pollution in the city is not an isolated case as other Indian cities also suffer from heavy pollution. The list includes Ludhiana, Gwalior, Kanpur, Allahad, Patna and Raipur. The problem is not limited to the cities, however, as studies have shown that 75% of air-pollution related deaths were from the rural areas.

Burning Rice After Harvest

Most of the cities that experience heavy pollution are located in northern India. According to Chandra Venkatraman, a chemical engineering professor of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, the second biggest source of air pollution in the northern states is agricultural residue burning. Every year from November onwards, rice farmers in the northern Indian states like Punjab and Haryana burn the stubble left over from harvesting rice. This helps the farmers clear the fields for the next harvest. Unfortunately, the haze adds to the pollution in the cities.

A 2016 study conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur estimated that air quality in Delhi could lower by 90% if the habit of rice burning will not be stopped. This bold move may be difficult for Indian farmers to understand and accept, but is crucial to the survival of millions of people living in the area.

One measure of air quality used by the World Health Organization (WHO) is PM2.5, which is based on the concentration of microscopic particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. These are considered harmful because they can be inhaled and lodged in the lungs and are not naturally expelled. From the lungs, these particles can also pass further on to other organs.

The WHO considers a PM2.5 index higher than 25 to be unsafe. In November 2017, Delhi had an air quality index of 1,000, measured at the US Embassy.

Regional Disputes Worsen the Problem

One of the major causes of the seasonal smog and pollution is agricultural in nature, and Delhi is not the only area which is affected. Other regions and cities also experience these deleterious effects. The problem could not be solved simply by prohibiting the farmers from burning rice fields. The territorial boundaries have made this a political dispute between the chief minister of Delhi against the chief minister of Punjab and Haryana.

Planting rice in Asia is a tedious process which involves flooding the rice paddies before plowing the soil. The paddies are harrowed afterwards, which means running a large comb-like mechanism to break the muddy soil further. It is in this process that the burned stubble is broken down further. The land is leveled to ensure that the seedlings are planted at an even depth. A level soil also ensures that the water is also even. After leveling, either the paddies are seeded, or seedlings are planted. The burned stubble mixes with the soil during the tilling process.

Haze contributing to air pollution in India due to farmers burning rice paddy
A study by a tech institute in Kanpur says rice burning will lower the quality of air in New Delhi by 90%

Burning rice paddy stubble (also known as agricultural biomass residue) is called Crop Residue Burning (CRB) and has long been considered as a major health hazard. According to different sources, it is a major source of pollution, and contributes between 12% to 60% of PM concentrations. It also does not help the soil to recover, causing the loss of topsoil nutrients like nitrogen, sulfur, potassium and phosphorus. With less topsoil layer nutrients, there is a greater need to use commercial fertilizers.

The Punjab region produces between 18-20 million tons of paddy straw while the Haryana region produces two million tons. About 85% to 90% of the paddy straw is burned in the field. Punjab also produces 20 million tons of wheat straw, and farmers have also begun burning these rice by-products.

 Proposed Solutions and Alternatives

The Air Act of 1981 made CBR a punishable offense, with local village officials charged with implementing the law. A penalty is imposed on the farmer who commits this offense. However, as expected, legislation has not been able to prevent this practice.

One solution for the farmers is a government subsidized purchase of a farm machine which would help in planting rice without the need to burn the stubble left over from the previous harvest. The machine would allow planting while tilling the soil, which would also streamline the planting process. The concept would be a revolutionary process as current rice planting methods have not changed since it was first planted.

The use of paddy straw in biomass-based power plants has also been suggested. Current operational and planned projects in Punjab use up to 0.04 million tons of straw. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) has set up tariffs in Punjab to serve as incentives to erect biomass powered electric plants. The tariff for paddy straw is higher than that of wind and solar energy production.

Paddy straw can also be made into charcoal pellets or briquettes, as well as used as fuel for industrial baking kilns in producing bricks, as well as in the production of ethanol. A process for the procurement of paddy straw from farmers have to be but in place for the process to happen.

The Punjab region already has various projects in different stages of development in the pipeline to use paddy straw in bio-refineries for ethanol. Paddy straw can be an excellent raw material for biomass pellet fuel for industrial uses, including the replacement of coal. Other uses of paddy straw is manufacturing paper, cardboard, and making packing materials. These methods and tools require equipment and processes to produce. As packing materials, these can potentially replace synthetic materials.

Paddy straw has a lot of opportunities to help the community, and at the same time reduce air pollution in India’s northern regions. The opportunity exists for the methods and processes to be established by the small communities for the alternative economic usage of this raw material.

China’s Takes the Tech Approach

India isn’t the only country facing this problem. China, with its bulging population, has also been battling problems with pollution for years now, but not just from burning rice. Reports from the University of Exeter have revealed that air pollution and chemical use in farms have negatively impacted the ability of crops to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere.

More than 295 million vehicles emit 44.725 million tons of pollutants each year. The situation has led local scientists to adopt bold and unconventional farming methods to secure the country’s food supply. ‘Plant factories’, indoor vertical farms that grow produce requiring minimal energy and land resources as seen as the most viable solution to the problem. These self-contained systems are not exposed to choking air pollution levels which are said to be five times over the safe levels declared by the WHO.

So far, the efforts have been successful. Nowadays, indoor patches of bok choy, tomatoes, celery, and lettuce produce more than 40 to 100 times more crops than an open field farm.

Vertical farms could be the answer to the problem of meeting food supply, but it does not address the problem of pollution.

Everyday Practices Contribute to Pollution

Besides the post-harvest burning of rice fields, another major source of pollution in India is residential biomass burning. These include firewood, dried cow dung, and other materials burned to cook food or for heating. Open fires with cow dung or firewood as fuel is the most common method of cooking in India. The use of coal as fuel for power generation is the second biggest source of air pollution. Anthropogenic dusts, transportation, diesel fuel and brick kilns are other major sources of pollution.

In 2015, there were more than a million deaths in India, equivalent to 25% of the total deaths worldwide due to air pollution. Further studies on pollution and air-pollution related deaths estimate that there would be up to 1.6 million deaths annually by 2030. If aggressive measures were put in place soon, up to 1.2 million deaths could be averted annually by 2050.

Crop reside burning is a big source of pollution, but it’s only one of many factors that add up to the problem. One way to prevent this type of agricultural burning is to educate farmers that rice straw can be used to create other industrial and commercial products. This opportunity can improve the air quality in the northern cities of India as well as provide rice farmers additional income.

In the meantime, they can take a cue from China and look at other agricultural solutions which involve technology.