Cities today are growing at an unprecedented rate, matched by a skyrocketing demand for transportation. Yet attitudes toward cars are changing: young people in the US are getting their driver’s licenses in significantly lesser numbers than previous generations, and the miles travelled by car per capita in most European countries as well as in Japan has been in decline for over a decade. Globally, we are searching for alternative mobilities – ones that are sustainable, personalised, efficient, and comfortable – and they will only emerge through creative design and engineering.

The Copenhagen Wheel is the next revolution in personal mobility. The project was initiated through a partnership with the Mayor’s office in Copenhagen, Denmark – one of the world’s most innovative cities for cycling. First conceived and designed at the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory, the Copenhagen Wheel was subsequently licensed exclusively to the original co-designers through a startup named Superpedestrian Inc., where it is now being further designed and developed for commercialisation. To date, The Copenhagen Wheel has already won multiple design awards and been reviewed in over 2,000 media publications, including BBC, Wired and the New York Times.

The Wheel is a standalone unit that can be installed on nearly any bicycle, immediately turning it into a smart electric hybrid – enabling the rider to travel great distances and easily overcome hills and wind. It captures energy over the course of the ride and gives a boost when needed, integrating seamlessly with the rider’s motion to multiply their power by three to ten times. The Wheel learns a rider’s unique characteristics and intuitively recognises how hard he or she is pedalling. With no extraneous throttles, wires, or buttons, riders use The Copenhagen Wheel as they would a normal bicycle. The technology disappears into the background, yet the city feels transformed.

The sleek red hub contains a motor, batteries, about a dozen sensors, and an embedded control system. The Wheel is actively online, synchronised with the rider’s smartphone and allowing her to customise and track her ride. She can see her daily fitness progress – her distance travelled, calories burned and elevation gained, and even share her progress with her friends. An open API and software development kit will inspire designers to create an app ecosystem for The Wheel, with new visualisations and experiences. From fitness to coding, The Copenhagen Wheel connects riders in a smart new cycling social network.

Designed, developed and built in the United States, The Copenhagen Wheel exemplifies a broader technological transformation that has been taking place. Digital devices are becoming an integral part of everyday objects and integrating with the built environment. This so-called ‘embedded intelligence’ in the objects that surround individuals opens the door for us to completely rethink how citizens address the problems faced by today’s cities. Superpedestrian is working to perfect the experience of urban mobility. Ultimately, The Copenhagen Wheel aims to transform the way we live in cities today – to reintroduce cycling as a viable modality for urban transportation.

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