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Patent Battle May Loom Over 'Copenhagen Wheel' Electric Bike 152

Posted by timothy
from the kumbaya-my-lord-kumbaya dept.
curtwoodward writes "Nearly four years after the concept was introduced, MIT spinout Superpedestrian has started selling its $700 'Copenhagen wheel' kits that promise to turn any old bike into an electric-powered, smartphone-connected dynamo, simply by swapping out the back wheel. But they're not alone: a competing startup called FlyKly has already raised $700,000 worth of pre-orders for a similar device. Superpedestrian, which holds exclusive license to the MIT patents covering the Copenhagen wheel, clearly thinks there's some foul play going on. 'Their founder actually dropped by our lab at MIT a year and a half ago, saying he wants to collaborate, and spent quite some time with the Copenhagen wheel team. We'll leave it at that,' Superpedestrian founder Assaf Biderman said."
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Patent Battle May Loom Over 'Copenhagen Wheel' Electric Bike

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  • It figures... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcguirez (524534) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:39PM (#45586583)

    Every Facebook has its Winklevoss brothers....

    just now in wheel form.

  • by Bartles (1198017) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:44PM (#45586631)
    ...on non-vintage bicycles pedaled by non-hipsters in rural areas too? Just checking because their kickstarter videos seem to imply you have to swallow your pride and look like a fashion concious douche to make it work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BasilBrush (643681)

      The funny thing is you're the one that looks like the snob here, not the "hipster" you're having a go at.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Spoken like a true hipster.

        • by xevioso (598654)

          Careful...hipster-hating is the new cool thing. And slavishly doing the new cool thing...makes you a hipster.

          • by simonbp (412489)

            Careful...hipster-hating is the new cool thing. And slavishly doing the new cool thing...makes you a hipster.

            Man, I was hating hipsters years before it was cool. These hipster-hating hipsters are ruining everything!

          • by tgd (2822)

            Careful...hipster-hating is the new cool thing. And slavishly doing the new cool thing...makes you a hipster.

            I was hating hipsters before they were a thing. You wouldn't understand.

          • I actually joined a hipster company (hipster specialty fashion retail) back in 2008 (as IT - no fashion sense required). Back then the running joke was hipster-ism had already done it's dash and had become too commercial (Ironic right since we were in the business of commercialising hipsters). Even the in-house hipsters were hipster hating back in 2008 because too many muggles had already caught on. 5 years later and it's now just a parody, every second idiot has a beard and sleeve tattoo these days. If I w
    • It appears that the FlyKly and Copenhagen Wheel will only work with hipster fixed gears initially but there will be a more expensive version that works with actual bicycles later on.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      From the video it appears the first version will only work if you live in a wooden-floored loft and have to carry your bicycle up the stairs.

      Maybe that's how they charge the battery.

    • by jythie (914043)
      I can not help but note how fashion conscious anti-hipsters seem to be.
    • I think they made the video to look like it's for hipsters to mask that the system doesn't look great. I realize I'm burning a few Karma points here, but I'm really not interested in a bike with a big white (or red... or whatever) back wheel that screams "hey, over here... big lazy nerd coming through! "

      I've been looking at buying an electric conversion kit for my bike for ~24 months. My requirements are:
      - Be under $700 for the conversion kit
      - Look like a normal-ish human would ride it on a regular basis (i

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        1. Look like a normal-ish human would ride it on a regular basis
        2. inconspicuous

        Pick one.

        It looks like a large white monster-cake inside your back wheel.

        A 'normal' ebike has the battery the electronics and the motor in different parts of the bike.
        This has all the stuff inside the monster-cake.

        The weight too.

  • by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:46PM (#45586667) Journal

    Why bother? My bike works fine without an electric wheel.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Oh, I don't know ... the odd boost up a hill or extending how far you can travel makes sense.

      Not everyone needs this, but I can see it being very useful for some people.

    • that their commute is too hilly, or they don't want to get to work sweaty, this eliminates a couple reasons not to commute by bike. If my commute were longer I'd take a look at one of these.
      • I can see how it could aid a hilly ride, but unless it's running an air conditioner, the rider is still going to sweat.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Some people bike just to get around, not for exercise.

    • Re:Why Bother? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BasilBrush (643681) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:58PM (#45586791)

      1. Plenty of people live in places with hills steep enough to make them need to get off and push. Battery assist can make the uncyclable hill cyclable

      2. Even more people live in places where the gradients or distances are enough to break out in a sweat when cycling. Which is fine if it's a simple work-out. But not good if you are using the bike for transport to somewhere where there isn't a shower at the other end. Battery assist can help you arrive smelling sweeter.

      3. Battery assist is good for people who are thinking of making a move to using a cycle rather than a car. They may feel they are not fit enough for it to be a pleasant prospect without a battery assist. Whilst cycle snobs might like to thumb their nose at them, the more people that switch to riding cycles the better.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BasilBrush (643681)

        4. When sharing a road with other traffic, you are safer the closer you are in speed to that traffic. Electric assist can help an otherwise slow rider to be closer to the speed of other traffic.

        • 4. When sharing a road with other traffic, you are safer the closer you are in speed to that traffic. Electric assist can help an otherwise slow rider to be closer to the speed of other traffic.

          In my lil' suburban neck of the woods, 20MPH won't even cut it driving through a residential neighborhood. People generally do 40MPH in the 30MPH zones and 45MPH means unless you're doing 50MPH, everyone and their cousin will pass you. In other words, whether you're puttering along at 20MPH or whatever speed you can manage under your own muscle power, you're still "that douchebag on a bicycle" who is holding up traffic.

          Besides ending up all sweaty and being at the mercy of the weather, the major problem w

        • by ras (84108)
          5. On some of these kits (eg, the BionX), you can put the motor into reverse - ie it becomes a generator. So if you live in a flat area and want to simulate hills, you can do that too.
      • Re:Why Bother? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mrchaotica (681592) * on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:07PM (#45587565)

        Plenty of people live in places with hills steep enough to make them need to get off and push. Battery assist can make the uncyclable hill cyclable

        The only "uncyclable" hill is one where the bike tips over backwards. Otherwise, the real problem is that the gearing isn't low enough (or more likely, that the rider isn't strong enough or doesn't know how to shift properly).

        • Be reasonable... (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          No, there are hills that are just reasonably uncycleable.

          Here in San Francisco, you could be a Tour-de-France rider and not be able to make it up some of the streets, which are well over 30 degree gradients 300m or more in length. There's a couple of streets near my house that approach 40 degrees, and which make walking up them very difficult (they have stairs specifically for that purpose, but walking up the normal street is quite difficult). Maintaining balance at that angle-of-attack on a bike is really

          • Somehow I can't picture a fixed gear bicycle with a small motor getting up any hills that are steep enough to challenge even someone with no motor and a compact gearset.

            • I wouldn't expect this bike to be good for that, no. Some electric bikes can be, though. I used to own an Optibike [optibike.com] with a Rohloff on it. Their design puts the motor in the bottom bracket, so both the motor's 700W effective output and my own ~200W were going through the 11-speed internally geared hub... that thing could climb.
          • When it's really not possible for any human being to use any commonly-available bicycle to ride the hill, it's "uncycleable". A hill that can't be ridden by 99% of the public is de facto "uncyclable".

            Right. What the GP post fails to accept is that any hill that is uncycleable for that person on the bike that they own is uncyclable for them. Which is why they might buy a power wheel.

        • In the abstract, that's true. However, start including other road users and you can find a hill that is problematic.

          Yes, I can go into first gear and climb the hill at 4 MPH. But if I'm sharing a lane with cars, I'm not sure that they'll really appreciate it. Being able to bip up the hill at 15 or 20 MPH will probably make them happier.

          Share the road applies to everyone.

        • by smithmc (451373) *

          or more likely, that the rider isn't strong enough

          Yeah, no duh. Not everybody's a super strong cyclist like you; they might just want to get from A to B without burning fossil fuel and without being all sweaty when they get to B. This is about cycling as transportation, not as a health lifestyle choice.

      • Re:Why Bother? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cusco (717999) <brian.bixby@COWgmail.com minus herbivore> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:19PM (#45587739)

        I live in Seattle. If the hill that my house is on were in the Midwest they'd put a ski resort on it. I finally had to give up biking to work because with my asthma I couldn't handle the damn hill home.

      • by c++0xFF (1758032)

        2. Even more people live in places where the gradients or distances are enough to break out in a sweat when cycling. Which is fine if it's a simple work-out. But not good if you are using the bike for transport to somewhere where there isn't a shower at the other end. Battery assist can help you arrive smelling sweeter.

        Sweat isn't smelly. It sounds a little odd, but an alternative is to take a shower before cycling. That gets you nice and clean so the bacteria don't get you smelly. Then, at your destination, just freshen up (towel down, deodorant, change clothes, and fix your helmet hair).

        That said ... being sweaty isn't exactly pleasurable, so your overall point still applies.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I had some summer jobs in Palo Alto in college, which was relatively flat everywhere. Which was fine, because I grew up where everything was very very flat. But there was this one very small hill that I could never get my bike up. I was just completely lousy at changing gears smoothly and at the right time. Despite doing this all summer, and despite the intense embarrasment that comes from being seen to push a bike, I never managed to succeed at it. Even at the lowest gear my speed just kept getting sl

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      The problem is that some people are not in shape to begin with, so cycling is actually quite hard on them. The problem with electric bikes is that it doesn't fix the root problem, which is, that the person is out of shape. After a few months of biking regularly without assistance, you'll be in pretty good shape, and you'll wonder why anybody would need an electric bike. That being said, the biggest gripe I have with electric bikes, is that in most places, the law dictates that they can't assist over some
      • Re:Why Bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by BasilBrush (643681) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @03:14PM (#45586977)

        The problem with electric bikes is that it doesn't fix the root problem, which is, that the person is out of shape.

        Electric bikes with throttles won't. But electric assist does require some effort, and thus will help the unfit to get fitter.

        It's all very well saying that an unassisted bike will get a person fit, but that will never happen if the person feels they are too unfit to get started. And whilst you might say they can start with short distances, most people want to cycle to commute, and that is a fixed distance.

        And don't forget that many people will live in terrain that's hillier than where you live.

        • by smithmc (451373) *

          The problem with electric bikes is that it doesn't fix the root problem, which is, that the person is out of shape.

          Electric bikes with throttles won't. But electric assist does require some effort, and thus will help the unfit to get fitter.

          So now it's not enough to want to do something good for the environment, we have to adopt a particular health lifestyle too? Screw it; I'll just keep using my car then. Why do you people have to look down your noses at other people who might be trying to do something good, without necessarily being concerned about doing what you think is good?

      • Re:Why Bother? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @03:15PM (#45586989)

        Your response illuminates one benefit called out in the article. With a wheel like this, instead of violating the law on descents, you can regeneratively brake, and then use that energy to stay close to the speed limit on ascents as well.

        I bike for fitness, and I fully intend to get something like this one day. I may be looking for an all-electronic drive train, where my cadence and effort are coupled to speed and torque only as a long-term average -- I decide how hard I want to work and what pace I want to maintain, and the power system manages everything else, letting me know if my configuration will either draw my battery down too far or exceed its charging capacity. No more finicky derailleurs, no more chain cleaning, no more chewed-up cuffs or shoelaces. And if the regenerative braking is good, it doesn't really matter that the bike is heavier -- you reclaim energy when coming to a stop, and then tap that energy to accelerate back to your pace.

        But who am I kidding? I'm riding a 30-year-old touring bike. I've put 10K miles on it over the last four years, and I'm still on the original chain, never mind groups and such. I'm not going to be pushing the leading edge (except perhaps with obscenely bright headlights).

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          It's not a bad idea. If it were actually safe to bike in my area, or if I didn't have a 25 mile commute, I might consider getting this. But it feels stupid to drive somewhere just to go biking.

      • After a few months of biking regularly without assistance

        And then repeat at least some of those few months every cycling season. I typically start cycling once freezing weather has left for the year, typically in March, but don't feel up to peak form until the end of April.

        On my bike, with walking effort, I can easily maintain 22-25 km/h on the flats.

        Perhaps the real problem is that flats are a luxury. After a long day at work, an uphill ride home isn't very fun.

        • What is wrong with spike tires?

          And for me, personally, an uphill ride home after a long day at work is exactly what I need to finally relax and let it go. It helps that I live at a mountain and work in a valley.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        It's not a purely electric bike. You still pedal it. You will get more in shape by using that bike. The big drawback for bikes is that you must first be in shape before you can actually use it.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      This is for the waifs that can barely carry a 15" laptop. You expect them to actually pedal their bikes as well?

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Why bother? My bike works fine without an electric wheel.

      Not everybody sees cycling as a macho endurance event.

      Some people have to wear suits to work, not spandex.

      • I don't see it as a macho endurance event. My bike is cheap and has flat handlebars and 5 gears. I use it to go places. I am far from fit.

        Not getting sweaty is achievable by adding a motor, or pedaling less hard. It seems to me that the latter is cheaper and more convenient.

        • Pedaling less hard comes with the disadvantages of not getting where you were planning on going in the time-frame you may have imagined. It could also come with the disadvantage of slowing to a stop and rolling backwards when you come to a hill. I get that no everyone needs every new gadget that comes out, but why is it such a big deal for people around here to brag about how unnecessary technology is to them.

          • by Darinbob (1142669)

            People aren't bragging about how unnecessary technology is, but instead trying to belittle anyone who isn't in as good shape as they are. They're saving the planet and your fat ass is destroying it. Nothing beats a rider's high except for having a rider's high while being smug about it.

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          Some people will sweat even while pedaling less hard. If there's a hill then pedaling less hard means you will not get up the hill. Pedaling less hard may mean you don't get to work on time so that you can't use the bike for commuting and instead have it for the weekend only.

    • So does mine. But I couldn't ride it to work without getting all sweated up. And my wife, with the repaired ankle (kevlar != tendon), can't ride like she used to.

      Be afraid: Someday you, too, may age.
    • by mjwx (966435)

      Why bother? My bike works fine without an electric wheel.

      So you can hold up a bus holding 50 commuters at 30 KPH instead of just 20 KPH, making them slightly less late for work.

  • by queazocotal (915608) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:53PM (#45586731)

    I've not found anything.
    Can anyone point to the actual patents involved?
    This seems to be a standard regenerative electric drive 'on a bike wheel', with nothing startlingly new.

    • Personally, I haven't seen one with the batteries built into the hub before.

      I haven't seen one where you set a speed target, such that the cycle helps below that speed, and regenerates when going over that speed.

      I certainly haven't seen one that integrates with GPS terrain data (via a smartphone) in order to know where the hills, flats and downhills are. Though it remains to be seen how much benefit that adds. It's not obvious to me where the benefit is over simply sensing pedal torque. But maybe they've fo

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Personally, I haven't seen one with the batteries built into the hub before.

        Kind of like adding: "on a computer" to an existing idea to create a bright shiny patentable idea. If putting batteries in the hub poses some particular challenge that they invented a particular solution for, then yeah, that solution should be patentable. But by itself "putting the batteries in the hub" should be a poster child for not-patentable.

        I haven't seen one where you set a speed target, such that the cycle helps below that speed, and regenerates when going over that speed.

        Again, all obvious ideas. If there is some amazing tech that enables these things then sure, patent that. But not the "invention" of cruise control for bicycle

    • by dasunt (249686)

      How is this regenerative?

      If it swaps out with the back wheel on a traditional bike, it looks like it relies on the traditional rim brakes to stop. Unless it relies on triggering a regenerative brake from a smartphone, which sounds utterly impractical.

      You could probably create one of these electric drive wheels that swaps out with a coaster brake wheel (the one where you back-pedal to stop), but that seems like it wouldn't stop the bike as fast as a coaster brake.

      • You could in principle setup the maximum downhill speed with the smartphone - hit 20MPH and it regeneratively brakes you down to that speed.
        Basically stupid though not to have a little wireless thing triggered by a small press on the brakes.

      • by MemoryAid (675811)
        Others have described this as suitable for 'fixies' (fixed-gear) only. In that design, the only torque supplied to the wheel comes from the chain, as there are no brakes. Braking action comes from applying pressure to the pedals on the 'other' side of the stroke. Whatever motor is inside this wheel would then become a generator, providing regenerative braking.
  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:55PM (#45586755)
    Clearly the competitors are adherents of the "Many Wheels" theory.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seams like it's just batteries and few sensors mounted to the wheel and not the frame. Can't see it really changing anything since a conventional electric bicycle can be bought with more batteries for less money. Haven't looked at buying one. but I'm sure they have ones you can peddle on too. Regenerative braking is just looking online for circuits or hire an expert. Also, the fancy sensors could be added if desired along with a custom app. Give me $500,000 and a month; and I'll have 80-100% of their featur

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      Seams like it's just batteries and few sensors mounted to the wheel and not the frame. Can't see it really changing anything since a conventional electric bicycle can be bought with more batteries for less money. Haven't looked at buying one. but I'm sure they have ones you can peddle on too. Regenerative braking is just looking online for circuits or hire an expert. Also, the fancy sensors could be added if desired along with a custom app. Give me $500,000 and a month; and I'll have 80-100% of their features (minus being on a wheel) on some prototype bikes. Give me some more money and another month or two; and I'll have the assemble line in China shipping them. Can't see it coming in over $150-500 retail depending on quality and features of the bike like suspension, steel or aluminum etc.

      ahahahahahaha. Oh wait, you were serious? Let me laugh even harder.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:59PM (#45586807)

    From the article:

    Superpedestrianâ(TM)s products: those red-disc equipped rear bike wheels, housing a sophisticated battery-powered drive system built with U.S.-made parts that can connect to the Internet to learn about its ownerâ(TM)s riding habits.

    Fuck no.

    • Allegedly:

      "This is a limited edition, handmade unit by us for the first 1,000" early adopters, says Assaf Biderman, Superpedestrian's founder. "And we're doing this because we want to have an absolute understanding of how each and every unit that comes out of here rides."

      Not that I believe they'd actually take that function out of the subsequent models, of course.

  • The FlyKly claims that it's product weighs less, goes faster and farther than the Superpedestrian. Colour me skeptical, but that smells more like marketing than engineering to me.

  • As Seen On TV (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Freshly Exhumed (105597) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @03:26PM (#45587101) Homepage

    On the TV show Weeds, Andy became sales agent/importer of a bicycle propulsion device that seems to fit the description in this thread. Is it the same device?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      On the show they did call it the "Copenhagen Wheel" and Andy brought it back from Denmark, so yes it the same device.

  • I am just wondering when this type of technology is caught in 'Tour de France'... It is not easy to design this thing to be small enough in order to fit in regular wheel, but I don't think it is impossible?
    • motors and batteries require size and mass to be effective. Shrinking them to be small enough to fit in a standard hub would render them pointless. Also, one side of the hub doesn't rotate (the motor needs something to push against), so it would be simple to detect
      • I understand your point. :) However, I am not talking about let the motor do the work, but rather have the motor ease the strength needed in pushing the bike (similar to gear). Would that still be possible?
        • That's exactly what this motor does! You set it to a speed, then it kicks in to help you get to that speed and stay there. It charges itself up either from you peddling faster than the set speed, or going downhill fast. If it ever got to the point where this was seen as a serious threat to the Tour De France, or other professional bicycle races they'd just make you surrender the bike for inspection as soon as you crossed the finish line. They'll x-ray it if they have to.

          • It's safe to say every form of cheating has already been tried. I'm guessing the hidden engine trick was used and discovered back when the frames were wood.

  • So if I live in flat Florida this bike would not be as effective?

    • Not really, no, unless you like to bust out sprints every now and then to charge up the battery, then take it easy for a little while when the motor kicks in.

  • Where's the story? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Krazy Kanuck (1612777) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @04:19PM (#45587749)
    So we have a link to a story about Company A who has exclusive license to use BigShot school's patents to make a fancy wheel and at the end of the article the reporter asks Company A whats they think about Company B's simliar product. The CEO says "Company B CEO came by 18 months ago wanted to co-lab, hung out and left, but I haven't looked at his patents" and we're slashdotting "impending legal doom", yet neither side has said boo to that nature or is there any other relevant link to anything remotely newsworthy. Where's the story?
  • Reinventing the wheel all over again and then fighting over who made it round.... This will end up as one of those brilliant ideas nobody will ever use because it's too expensive and people buy new (used) bikes every few years anyway, or they only have one for show and they don't actually ride it. What's the business case for spending $800 on a wheel to still ride an old bike if you can buy an all new shiny electric bike for less.
    • by RockDoctor (15477)
      The dichotomy between your words and your signature line is ... wide.

      What's the business case for spending $800 on a wheel to still ride an old bike if you can buy an all new shiny electric bike for less.
      --
      I was promised a flying car. Where is my flying car?

      You might have a job finding an electric bike *new* for $800. £800 you should certainly manage, but $800? Then again, I'm considering whether to go up to £600 for my new bike, since my old junk is literally falling apart.

  • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @05:52PM (#45589077)
    43 years ago there was a student at MIT who put a car battery and a starter motor on his bicycle. Now it's a big deal?
  • by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @06:04PM (#45589233) Homepage
    These have been available for years. I bought a no-brand Chinese one for my bike not too long ago, of course without the fancy batteries, sleek plastic cover on the hub and iPhone app.

    If that's not good enough then here's a petrol version petrol version [wikipedia.org] (engine inside the wheel! from 1901)
  • "Their founder actually dropped by our lab at MIT a year and a half ago, saying he wants to collaborate, and spent quite some time with the Copenhagen wheel team. We'll leave it at that,' Superpedestrian founder Assaf Biderman said."

    Wrong state. But doesn't that remind you of a certain IT visionary who developed this idea for a graphically-oriented computer?

Little known fact about Middle Earth: The Hobbits had a very sophisticated computer network! It was a Tolkien Ring...

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