City cyclists can start saying goodbye to hills. Cambridge-based Superpedestrian announced Tuesday the first commercial rollout of its Copenhagen Wheel, an MIT-spun invention transforming the standard bicycle into a hybrid e-bike.
“People would be much more compelled to get on a bike if it didn’t feel like such an ordeal anymore,” Superpedestrian founder Assaf Biderman, associate director of the MIT SENSEable City Lab, told BostInno.
It’s that undeniable truth that sparked the company, backed by Spark Capital and Tumblr Founder David Karp in October. The startup received $2.1 million in Series A financing, and has since received hundreds of daily requests for pre-orders — roughly 24,000 to date, according to Biderman.
The Copenhagen Wheel was initially developed in MIT’s SENSEable City Lab as a research project, sponsored by the mayor of Copenhagen. For three years, the team toyed around with ideas the cycling-centric city could use to convince even more people to start pedaling. Thirty-six percent of all trips already occur by bike in Copenhagen, but the mayor wanted to send a message, explained Biderman, that “technology can have an impact on sustainable practices.”
What launched out of the lab is a self-contained unit that snaps easily onto the back of any ordinary bicycle, and converts the energy lost when braking into an added boost of energy a rider needs to pedal uphill or travel that extra mile. The Copenhagen Wheel, licensed from MIT, can sense how hard a cyclist is pedaling and recognize the topography ahead to determine the level of support a rider might need.
The 12-pound wheel is retrofittable to any bike, and doesn’t weigh riders down with bulky battery packs. Its rechargeable battery is expected to last 1,000 charge cycles. The unit also features an intelligent locking system that fastens the bike when the user walks away and unlocks it upon his or her return.
What’s more, the Copenhagen Wheel can connect to any rider’s smartphone, which allows for the tracking of personal usage statistics, such as distance traveled, calories burned and elevation gained. Data can then be shared with friends, creating a more social way to cycle.
“Effectively, the Copenhagen Wheel puts your bike online — at the center of your personal Internet of Things,” said Carlo Ratti, co-inventor of the Copenhagen Wheel and director of the MIT SENSEable City Lab, in a statement.
The bike is now available for purchase for $699 at limited quantities. Shipping is slated to start at the end of the first quarter of 2014, but will only mark the beginning of Superpedestrian.
“We’re going to keep on releasing new products,” Biderman admitted, adding that the team will soon be opening its API to developers looking to connect to the wheel and cater to cyclists.
With more than 60 percent of the world expected to live in cities by 2020, Superpedestrian could have a positive impact on the quality of urban life — Biderman is sure of it.
“It’s something very special,” he said. “Something very special.”
Featured images via Nili Ohayon