Bicycles

Scientists develop wireless braking for bicycles

Scientists develop wireless br...
Professor Holger Hermanns with his prototype wireless bicycle braking system
Professor Holger Hermanns with his prototype wireless bicycle braking system
View 1 Image
Professor Holger Hermanns with his prototype wireless bicycle braking system
1/1
Professor Holger Hermanns with his prototype wireless bicycle braking system

Given that wireless gear-shifting for bicycles has been around for the past few years, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that someone has now developed a wireless braking system. Created by computer scientists at Germany's Saarland University, the current prototype still looks a little boxy, but it does do away with cables and brake levers. According to computer algorithms that would normally be used in control systems for aircraft or chemical factories, the system should offer 99.999999999997 percent reliability - that means it would fail three times out of a trillion braking attempts.

The Saarland researchers have installed the system on the front wheel of a cruiser-type bicycle.

To activate the brake, the rider simply squeezes on the right-side rubber handlebar grip. This registers on a pressure sensor underneath the rubber, which in turn activates a small handlebar-mounted sending unit. That unit proceeds to send a radio signal to a receiver mounted on the end of the fork, which relays it to an actuator, which activates the disc brake. The harder that the grip is squeezed, the more firmly the brake is applied.

Professor Holger Hermanns with his prototype wireless bicycle braking system
Professor Holger Hermanns with his prototype wireless bicycle braking system

Presently, the system is able to stop the bicycle within 250 milliseconds. At that speed, a cyclist traveling at 30 km/h (18.6 mph) would have to react at least two meters (6.6 feet) before the point at which they needed to stop. The scientists aren't satisfied with this figure, and believe that it would be relatively simple to add anti-lock and traction control functionality to the system.

Professor Holger Hermanns, who is leading the research, has been in contact with bicycle brake manufacturers and hopes to commercialize the technology. Even if the Saarland system never makes it to the marketplace, he believes that lessons learned from the project could be applied to larger-scale, more complex wireless systems in which failure must be kept to an absolute minimum.

31 comments
Chuck Anziulewicz
\"The harder that the grip is squeezed, the more firmly the brake is applied.\" Funny, that\'s exactly how the old-fashioned brakes on my Trek hybrid work! And they\'re probably a helluva lot less expensive.
Joseph Shimandle
No value added. Just more weight, complexity, and batteries that can go out on a down hill slope. Someone had too much time on their hands to waste on this idea.
Gadgeteer
No need to be sarcastic, Chuck. I suspect the point is that this is not a simple on-off solenoid, which one might assume for a simple electric brake. If they actually can add inexpensive antilock and traction control, it would be far better than any mechanical brake, including top of the line hydraulic disc systems.
Mindbreaker
If the problem is cable brakes, I would think a fluid would work better and require no power other than the operator\'s grip. Power from a battery looks dubious. Antilock? Get real. The feature is not even useful for cars except for unskilled drivers who panic. I think I only laid down rubber streaks 2 times in over 20 years of driving a car. One was short which I backed off fairly quickly and one when...well...I did panic (Kids crossing at a light anticipating the walk signal but going early while I was trying to make the yellow. Thankfully, the screech of the wheels made them jump back. Ironically, if I had had antilock breaks there would not have been a screech and I very well might have hit one of the idiots. I simply did not have time to stop and antilock would not have stopped me in time either. Horn? Too fast ...no time to find that). Ya know...I really can\'t see this as very useful. Perhaps a crash avoidance automatically breaking might be useful but... You generally are not moving that fast on a bike and you know when you will be breaking and already have your hands on the breaks and the slack already taken up. Pushing them harder quickly...why the heck would you want to do that? Bikes are very top heavy...you just flip the bike if you squeeze like mad. I once hit a car with my dad\'s tandem Schwinn (from the 60\'s) when I was a kid. Dang thing must have weighed 70 lb. It had rained the night before and I was going fast down a steep hill driving through all the puddles. When I finally saw I had to break there were no breaks because the rubber breaks were slipping on the metal rims from the water and mud. I really messed up that car...and my elbow. I turned the bike sideways and over sliding on the ground then when I hit, it quickly righted itself as my tires hit its slamming me into the side. I was a 190 lb 7th grader at the time. Must have be going about 45 mph. I was so shook-up I could not remember how old I was when the officer who came asked. So I do like breaks away from the rim as it appears they have done here ;) They should just build breaks into the hubs. I had an old bike once that you just pushed the petal the other direction for breaking...very quick and reliable, but only the rear wheel...it was very prone to locking though. I can\'t see why they can\'t have something similar in two wheels where the one in the back is connected via a cable line to the front.
Michael Gene
Sooo, if I happen to be on the same frequency as some else nearby when they send out a radio signal to their brakes they will slow and I ... DIE!!!
Gadgeteer
Mindbreaker, wow. First, they\'re \"brakes,\" not \"breaks.\" Uh, they\'ve had hydraulic disc brakes with hub-mounted rotors for bicycles for many years now. Where have you been? In fact, you probably won\'t find a mountain bike costing over $2000 that doesn\'t have them. As for antilock, it\'s widely agreed that antilock brakes are much more valuable on two-wheelers, namely motorcycles, which is why the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommended last year that they be made mandatory for all motorcycles sold in the US. When you only have two wheels, locking up one of them, especially the front, is a big deal. You write about danger of doing an \"endo\" over the handlebars if someone brakes too hard. Well, that would exactly be one of the benefits of antilock brakes, to keep that from happening. Basically, absolutely everything you wrote says that you probably haven\'t ridden a bike in 50 years and barely know anything about them. It doesn\'t help that you call people idiots when you were trying to beat the yellow light, which happens to be illegal.
Sambath Pech
Won\'t happen. Not even a mega company like Shimano was able to successfully market their electric derailleurs....which is something that I see is more useful than electronic braking.....on a bicycle??? I\'m an intermediate biker and I cannot see any longterm benefits of an electronic braking system on a bicycle. If anything, it\'ll add more weight to the bicycle (battery, motors to control the brake calipers, circuit board, etc) vs. the short brake cable that was eliminated.
Alex Cheng
nah, I\'m a little skeptical about this... What\'s wrong with the traditional cable braking system? I mean, you cannot even afford 0.000000000003% of error when you\'re mountain biking downhill, what are the benefits of it being wireless anyway? I\'m sorry but this is just wasting time!
Frank Kemper
@ Joseph J Shimandle: The problem of electronic brake control is the relation between the technical efforts and the practical gains. Some years ago Mercedes launched the SBC brake by wire system in certain high price cars like the SL. Back then they claimed that this system would enable them to implement certain features such as automatik parking brake during stop&go and such. Finally they had to admit that almost every thinkable feature was also possible in combination with usual hydraulic braking systems - which they stepped back to some years later. I personally would love to see a bicycle brake system, which is able to store the energy produced by braking the bike down - and release it just a few seconds later when the rider wants to accelerate again.
Todd Edelman
Going 30km/h and your bike will stop in two feet? The grip idea is stupid.