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Future shift
December 3, 2011 8:44 AM   Subscribe

PXP: The bicycle that knows what you're thinking (yt)

Part of the Toyota Prius projects ("making the world more interesting"), a collaboration between Parlee Cycles and Deeplocal.

Prolly is not Probably (John Watson) documents the bike project week by week.

Additional coverage at Wired, including a road test.
posted by bonehead (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not that it's not kind of a neat idea, but I don't think it's really that... useful. As it turns out, it's really easy to shift by yourself, it's not something that is a huge chore that would benefit from automation. It's optimizing and complicating something that doesn't really benefit from it.

I'd probably be more interested in such a thing if it was coupled with a continuously variable shifting system, since that might be harder to optimize manually?
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:55 AM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh, I didn't know there was headset you could buy for this, so the commercial worked for me but for the wrong vendor. Be cool to try to do text input with it, but I doubt it has the "resolution" not to mention the fact it's $300.
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on December 3, 2011


The team set me up with a neurotransmitter helmet connected to an iPhone 4

No thanks, bike accessories are already expensive enough. Not to mention yet another thing to have to remember to charge. Bikes don't need these kind of complications, as stated before shifting is pretty easy.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:07 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


A wonderful instance of a broader trend, wherein bicycles are conspicuously used in advertising to sell non-bicycle items like financial-services products (Chase is helping our small bicycle business get off the ground! Ameriprise helps you invest slowly and steadily, much like this older white man going up a hill on his bicycle!), medications (I'm no longer incontinent, so I can go on bicycle rides with the guys!), and lifestyle accessories like the Prius.

Nobody makes much money in the bicycle business itself, of course, so you never see televised ads for bikes qua bikes.
posted by killdevil at 9:20 AM on December 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, this post is Pepsi Blue.
posted by killdevil at 9:21 AM on December 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Eh. Honestly it's kind of lame. Shifting by "brainwaves" doesn't really mean it's 'reading your mind' rather you're deliberately altering your brain wave patterns like these gimmicky games. And the thing is, it's not even that easy to do (from what I understand, I've never tried it) that's what makes the game challenging. Plus this technology is really old.

It would be cooler if they figure out a way to measure muscle fatigue and adjust the torque automatically for an optimal ride experience based on how hard you want to push yourself.
A wonderful instance of a broader trend, wherein bicycles are conspicuously used in advertising to sell non-bicycle items like financial-services products (Chase is helping our small bicycle business get off the ground! Ameriprise helps you invest slowly and steadily, much like this older white man going up a hill on his bicycle!), medications (I'm no longer incontinent, so I can go on bicycle rides with the guys!), and lifestyle accessories like the Prius.
I remember a couple years ago some car company, Subaru or VW, I don't remember which had a deal where they would throw in some bicycles if you bought the car.
posted by delmoi at 9:21 AM on December 3, 2011


Huh, I didn't know there was headset you could buy for this. There are several such, but this is a kind of technology that looks (and works) better in the demos than in reality. People who actually use eeg style output have to work at it to get decent connections and reliable noise-free signals, and that's in a static environment, where the environmental interference isn't constantly changing as it would be on a bicycle.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:28 AM on December 3, 2011


Some people like to have $10,000 bikes hanging in their garage. It is a bike designed to be talked about. It wont make you Cadel Evans. A real advancement would be be integrating this transmission system into the bike's gear system.
posted by Kale Slayer at 9:29 AM on December 3, 2011


I remember a couple years ago some car company, Subaru or VW, I don't remember which had a deal where they would throw in some bicycles if you bought the car.

Ahh yes, the infamous Jetta Trek edition. I worked in a bike shop carrying Trek bikes at the time, and we all hated those customers. They'd come in with a coupon for their special VW Trek 850s but had to be painstakingly educated about all things bike-related, since they tended to be 10 times more clueless than the average person who walked into the store. When they purchased their cars they all bought into the idea of mountain biking, but the practicalities were lost on most of them.
posted by killdevil at 9:29 AM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The fact that the bike was wind-tunnel tested without a rider shows that it was never meant to be ridden.
posted by scruss at 9:35 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, this post is Pepsi Blue.

At least there's not a price tag and ordering information in the FPP.

This was neat, but as others have noted these don't seem like very practical innovations. Eliminating 'manual' shifting at all - whether it's by hand or by brainwave - is something that would have way more utility (I gather there are existing automatics for bikes, but they don't seem to have much traction). Or how about some kind of system to automatically optimize seat height, handlebar position, etc.?
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:04 AM on December 3, 2011


Next up, the PxPxP: the bicycle that knows what you're thinking but only pretends to care ("yeah, I know you really wanted to shift down not up, but trust me, it's better this way.")
posted by daniel_charms at 10:05 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


For Tour de France type stuff it might, or might not, provide a slight edge over a long race. It depends if it does, or not. What you believe will happen, will be be irrelevant to what actually happens. Go R&D!
posted by stbalbach at 10:11 AM on December 3, 2011


For Tour de France type stuff it might, or might not, provide a slight edge over a long race....

...if it weren't for the 1.5 kg laptop strapped to your back.
posted by furtive at 10:19 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gear up

     Really?

Gear up!

     Is that so?

GEAR UP!

     Sorry, I couldn't do it. Could you try it again, please?

Готовьтесь!

*** ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM !!! ***

posted by mazola at 10:22 AM on December 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't think about changing gears. Don't think about changing gears. Don't think about---

*CLANK*

Awcrap.
posted by cmyk at 10:26 AM on December 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is like anti-advertising for me. If anything, it says that Toyota doesn't know the right problems to fix and is overconfident about 'applying its technique' to other industries without learning any context.
posted by tmcw at 10:27 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Needs "asolutioninsearchofaproblem" tag. When I'm on my road bike, I have to move one of my fingers about an inch to shift up or down. And who knows how this "neural interface" will work when I'm actually out on the road and it's hot and I'm sweating and my heartbeat is really elevated and I'm thinking mostly about the really excellent glutes of the rider ahead of me. If they really want to provide a) something useful that would b) tie into the whole eco-friendly Prius image, how about built-in solar panels that would capture rays at any angle throughout the day for your electronics?
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:35 AM on December 3, 2011


Also really unconvinced. At the risk of sounding like a Kraftwerk album sleeve, the beauty of a bike is surely that it harnesses and amplifies the things that humans can do. The technology and the person are interdependent, with each task being handled by the element best equipped for it. Making both dependent on an unnecessary external element seems like a step backward.
posted by howfar at 10:37 AM on December 3, 2011


Why the heck do you need a neurotransmitter helmet, laptop, iPhone, etc. Put a strain gauge and rpm counter on the crank, hook that up to a small microcontroler and tada automatic transmission without having to worry about it. The future of technology isn't strapping random things onto your bike/body its things that just work.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 10:38 AM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


> ..if it weren't for the 1.5 kg laptop strapped to your back.

..no it's a 5 pound cray super computer attached to your neck. Check the video.
posted by stbalbach at 10:42 AM on December 3, 2011


i mean, hey, there's a lot of stuff that's not useful that exists anyway. it's okay.
posted by entropone at 11:17 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This video makes me happy that Toyota is spending money on basic research, which is something I wish more large companies devoted resources to. Transistors, lasers, Unix, the C language were all invented at Bell Labs in the mid-20th century. If this project seems impractical, it's meant to be. Something surprising and valuable may come out of it anyway.

Pure research is a risk, but it needs to happen for science and technology to advance. I'm ok with them spinning it into a marketing video if that helps offset the risk.
posted by knave at 11:39 AM on December 3, 2011


A Prius inspired bike? I think I would have gone with a comfort, commuter or townie bike with a CVT (continuously variable transmission), perhaps one of those newfangled a belt drives and maybe a hub-drive electrical assist with regenerative braking.

I don't think it's bicycle analog is an overly high tech racing road bike. The bike in the video is closer to an F1 race care than it is to a Prius. A Prius isn't really very sporty. Techy? Sure, but not sporty.
posted by loquacious at 11:40 AM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bah, humbug. When I was a kid, my bike had a neuroprocessor that thought, "This hill is getting pretty steep; better downshift zigzag."
I don't want a bike or car to react to what I am thinking or anticipate what I am thinking. Google and Word don't even do this properly, but thankfully I am just sitting in a chair.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:30 PM on December 3, 2011


I want a bike that knows what the other people on the road are thinking.
posted by pernoctalian at 12:47 PM on December 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


delmoi: "It would be cooler if they figure out a way to measure muscle fatigue and adjust the torque automatically for an optimal ride experience based on how hard you want to push yourself."

Wouldn't be that hard. There are power meters that embed into a pedal, or the crankset, or the rear hub, and communicate wirelessly to a microcontroller/bike computer (or, these days, a suitably equipped smartphone). Slightly harder would be tailoring it to what the rider wants, rather than what his power output is communicating about what he wants.

I saw a video about the brainwave-shifting project a while back, before it was this polished. I think it's neat as a "look what we can do" project, but not practical. (I wonder if it can respond to a "big throw now!" thought.) As the guy in the video said, it's a hack—my guess is that they developed some new software, apparently running on a tablet (not sure why it couldn't run on the dashboard iPhone), and got the tablet to emit an electrical signal for shifting. Everything else is off the shelf. I was in a bike shop just yesterday that had a bike with the same electric-shifting parts. $10K—without a mindreader.
posted by adamrice at 1:01 PM on December 3, 2011


Jesus, guys. Knave has it: don't see this as a practical bike for your consumption, but as basic research, testing some wild ideas to see where they go.
posted by mumimor at 1:05 PM on December 3, 2011


"Hello HAL, do you read me, HAL?"
"Affirmative, Dave. I read you."
"Shift the gear up, HAL"
"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I cannot do that."
posted by carmel at 1:28 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get that this is cool as a proof of concept, but the fact that it's being presented as something other than a geeky hey-look-what-we-can-do project is where it falls flat. Grafting it on to a $10K plus machine that would be much better without is foolish. Attach it to a Schwinn? Awesome.
posted by Ickster at 2:00 PM on December 3, 2011


Jesus, guys. Knave has it: don't see this as a practical bike for your consumption, but as basic research, testing some wild ideas to see where they go.

Better yet think of it as a $40,000 investment to make a bunch of people mention "Prius" on the interwebs and look at the little Toyota logo in the corner. Because that's exactly what this is. It's not about research at all, it's about page views. This little 2-3 min "light brand touch" 5d Internet docs are all the rage right now. In fact, they're paying for me to decorate my apartment.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:03 PM on December 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh and the bike shop is certainly 1) getting paid and 2) also in it for the publicity.

Not to say they don't like hacking around making weirdo stuff, but doing this is a business move...
posted by nathancaswell at 2:08 PM on December 3, 2011


My take was that it was absolutely blue-sky, perhaps not immediately interesting even as a prototype, but certainly interesting as an experiment. I can see something like this being interesting for high-performance sports, certainly. In downhill or cross, you don't ever want to take your hands off the bars if you can avoid it. Hill-climbing and mountain road work might be interesting too.

The component companies have been all mucking about with electronic shifters now for a decade and a half at least. This sort of thing might actually be a reason that might be a good idea. I was a little surprised that they were using wired shifters though, not wireless ones.
posted by bonehead at 2:23 PM on December 3, 2011


computer to nowhere
posted by telstar at 5:45 PM on December 3, 2011


killdevil: "Also, this post is Pepsi Blue."

Or rather, I was going to say something like...

"Cool tech and a cool bike, but why did they paint it white? Instead of, you know, blue?"
posted by Samizdata at 9:26 PM on December 3, 2011


Kale Slayer: A real advancement would be be integrating this transmission system into the bike's gear system.

Unfortunately the Prius transmission would be a poor choice for a bicycle. First of all, you would have to lug around two motor generators (mg1, mg2) at least as powerful as the cyclist. Furthermore, in some modes, these motors shuffle nearly as much power between them electrically as the cyclist generates at the pedals, with huge attendant losses.

For instance, lets say the cyclist puts out 500W at 100 rpm. In top gear, MG1 would slaps on another 500W to double the speed at the same torque. The resulting 1000W would be passed through MG2 which would claw back 500W to send to MG1, leaving the original 500W to drive the wheel at 200 rpm. Since the electric drivetrain is only 70% efficient, you would be losing 30% of 500W to heat. I don't know about you, but I can't afford to lose 30% of what little power I have on a bicycle. (It only makes sense on the Prius because the hybrid drivetrain allows the engine to be run more efficiently, and the two motors let you do neat things with simultaneous driving and battery charging).

Back to the article - I am really disappointed by this project. There's no R&D here. Every "technology" Parlee cycles used (composite frames, shimano electric shifters) are available off-the-shelf. The only novel bit is the iPhone neural interface, and that's just a gimmick. It's a marketing showpiece, not a technical development.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:53 PM on December 3, 2011


(A better way to describe my example would be to say that MG2 has to claw back 650 watts to make sure MG1 gets the 500W it needs after losses, leaving you with only 350 watts at the wheel, an efficiency of only 70% at that gear ratio. For reference, a derailleur set is about 95-98% efficient at all ratios. )
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:01 AM on December 4, 2011


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