Coming to your bicycle: wireless braking?
March 26th, 2012
12:23 PM ET

Coming to your bicycle: wireless braking?

By Steve Almasy, CNN

Holger Hermanns wasn’t out to change the way people bike.

For the computer scientist, whose mission in life is to make things safer through well-prepared wireless systems, cycling is just a hobby.

But when he helped develop a braking system for bicycles that needs no cables and is operated by a sensor in the handlebar, the cycling industry took notice.

“This is a playground for us,” Hermanns told CNN by phone. “I never thought someone would be seriously interested in this.”

He chose a bicycle because it was an inexpensive, easy-to-build platform that could help him and his team test their calculations. And it was much safer to crash than say a car or a train. After his work was announced, the calls from companies associated with biking started coming.

Their prototype is cruiser-style bike that many commuters ride to work or around town. The rider puts pressure on the sensor, which signals a receiver on the frame's front fork.

The harder the grip, the more pressure the receiver tells the brakes to apply. A battery supplies electricity to the system, which include other sensors receiving information from the brakes. The rear brake is operated with the foot by cranking the pedals in the opposite direction.

The wireless brake works with 99.9999999999997 percent reliability, according to a news release from Saarland University.

"That is not perfect, but acceptable," Hermanns said.

Hermanns doesn’t see this as something riders in the Tour de France will be adding anytime soon. The receiver/battery combination weighs too much at this point.

“Until you can buy it in a shop, this will take several years,” he said, adding it will probably take five years to produce something light enough to work commercially. He also thinks he can make his system work with ABS brakes instead of the “relatively simple” disc brakes the test bike uses.

What Hermanns wants to test is not bike-braking but the configuration of a new wireless system. The bike experiments have shown him that fine tuning can greatly improve the reliability of the network, he said.

“We can model and analyze these models and then put this new practice on the bike,” he said.

His research might lead to increased use in more complex systems - in European trains, for example.

Hermanns said a good wireless system will keep the trains moving better. Currently, tracks have systems that count the number of axles that travel over them. One section of track counts up, another counts down. When the total zeroes out, the system decides it's safe for another train to come through.

But if the count is wrong, the system would force some trains to be emergency-braked to a stop. And it takes a while to get a train moving again.

Hermanns said a wireless system could allow more communication between track and trains, and prevent such unnecessary braking. Sensors will also measure brake performance, but unlike his bike prototype, the train brakes would not be operated wirelessly.

"Wireless communication, hard real-time requirements and safety criticality do not go together well," Hermanns and his colleagues write in their paper about wireless technology.

But Hermanns believes that safety-critical wireless systems - whether on a bike or another mode of transport - will evolve and improve. And that is what he’s really after.

This post is part of a CNNMoney/CNN series this week on the "Future of Tech." For more, visit CNNMoney's tech-news page.

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soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. vestidos para festa

    Nice post! I love your blog
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    April 24, 2012 at 11:45 am | Reply
  2. B

    Talk about a solution without a problem. I've been bicycling with conventional cable actuated brakes for about 30 years now. I don't remember ever having a brake failure. If I did it was such a non-event it has faded from memory. Sure minor adjustments, sometimes parts needing to be replaced from wear, but that's about it. This overly complex and heavy system certainly won't eliminate wear parts and likely not adjustment. Plus now there will be batteries to change or the complexity of a generator. People who use human powered transportation aren't usually lacking in strength to operate the brakes... so what's the market for this? Braking is always limited by tires and the simple caliper grabbing the rim can exceed the tire's grip. So what's the point of multiplying force by electricity? Doesn't make any sense for regular bicycling.

    For this system to have any purpose it should be diverted to helping people with physical limitations enjoy some form of cycling. That's the only use this system could have. To extend cycling to those who currently cannot do it.

    April 1, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  3. dowhatifeellike

    Being an avid cyclist, I wouldn't trust a wireless system. There's nothing wrong with the current mechanical system; as long as you do your maintenance, it's failproof. Even in the very slim chance that one of my brake cables snap, I still have another brake mechanism on the other wheel, so I can still stop. The chance that both brake cables snap at the same time is almost nil. I can't prevent electronics from malfunctioning or predict when batteries will die.

    I'd be more inclined to see it in a car where I'm protected on all sides. On a bike, the brakes and my helmet are my only protection against car and truck drivers who don't see me. They only have to fail once for me to die. Even on a trail, if the brakes fail going into a turn I could be severely injured.

    Now wireless shifters I would totally go for. I'm sure it would be much more precise than a mechanical system and therefore reduce wear and tear. I have to recalibrate my derailleurs once a month it seems.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Reply
  4. marathonman72

    A simple solution is to design the brake like truck air brakes. The air pressure opens them and if an airline is cut, the brakes lock up. Similarly, the brakes will require electrical activity to stay open. If it loses any signal or battery power it reverts to it's default state, closed. This could be inconvenient if it happens spuriously, but at least it won't result in a non-braking situation.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • marathonman72

      One last point, the braking system I am referring to is used every day to stop vehicles safely carrying TONS of material, so it would definitely be safe for anyone else.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  5. Hunter

    We need to make progress regarding bicycle components. Shimano has Di2, Campagnolo has their thing going on with wireless shifting but I'm not sure that Susie Homemaker is ready for wireless brakes. Many things to consider regarding the most important component of your bicycle which is the brakes. Just one example, battery life. When that battery goes, you're done, period. Not to mention maintenance on such a complex piece of equipment, and think about cost!! The brakes would cost more than the bike itself! Stick with the coaster brake, it's safer and proven.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:00 am | Reply
  6. momtomissinglimbs

    No serious bike riders in my family and I don't imagine I'd ever use one due to my fears and insecurities of riding a bike. Also, I'm fat and out of shape and can barely manage to walk a flight of stairs BUT I have a 6 year old son with no lower arms (bilateral below elbow amputee). One of the 'worries' for special needs kids is the transition to bikes that don't use pedal brakes. There could be a market for these in special needs community for recreational or therapeutic riding.

    March 29, 2012 at 9:51 am | Reply
  7. Amy

    What an idea, scary yet, when I love to ride fast, and I'm a GIRL too ! Plus this idea makes one more idea for thieves to mess up with. If they can't steal it when it's locked up, why not cut the wires to that battery area that is suppose to stop you , the rider from being safe on ANY downhill ? This wireless battery idea is DUMB and DUMBER !

    March 29, 2012 at 7:34 am | Reply
    • russell

      as it stands now, they can cut your *wired* brake lines. how does wireless make this easier?

      March 29, 2012 at 9:34 am | Reply
    • Hunter

      If it's "wireless" what wires are there to cut?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:02 am | Reply
    • Erdem

      of course some ass would start bitihcng about people in the band being gay. who the hell cares? probably half of the great musicians in rock n' roll history were gay. deal with it and then you can start enjoying the music with? the rest of us.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:18 am | Reply
  8. kumar khanal

    what happens if the battery of the breaking system simply fails...and the cycle is in heavy speed.............

    March 29, 2012 at 1:46 am | Reply
    • tech guy

      One of the negative issues brought up by many can be discounted. Frequency hopping wireless (like wireless home phones) is used in major industries to send and receive critical signals to monitor and control very expensive equipment. They produce at high speed high value materials with near real-time control. These systems are especially helpful in large plants. I/O (inputs and outputs) monitor remote sensors and control devices using the latest in wireless systems. Key is the elimination of initial wiring cost and the dependability problems hard wiring creates. Wireless system batteries last 7 to 9 years even with full-time, high data volume, two-way exchange. Batteries are changed on a maintenance schedule. Some outdoor applications are solar charged. The security, dependability and cost savings from this system have become so well recognized over the last few years that a growing percentage of plants are making the move to wireless. Real world example: the operation of a taconite plant costing $400 M a year to operate uses wireless monitoring and control. Managing engineers are too careful to permit something that can possibly be sabotaged remotely or take chances with continuous plant output and quality performance.

      I am not saying bike breaking will inevitably become wireless, but it is a possibility and a reasonable test bed. In any case do your homework. Otherwise you are like the FOX (channel) in the global climate warming henhouse (scientific research results) taking ignorant bites out of reality. Progress and responsibility are best achieved when knowledge based. This is good for you and yours and our world. Educate yourself at least with on-line research and then speak out. Learn to listen and filter your sources. You will have joined the world of fact-based decision making and can debate from that premise instead of bluster.

      March 29, 2012 at 7:26 am | Reply
      • JPowers

        It's BRAKE you morons

        March 29, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  9. cavemens society

    Me no like remove think cnn nerd too!

    March 28, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Reply
  10. cavemens society

    Greg, you're a nerd just for knowing what one of the guys from myth busters looks like

    March 28, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  11. Jimmyfuton

    Did you people even read the article? 99.999999997% of you missed the point entirely.

    March 28, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
    • greg

      Was there a point here? Looked like a story about nerds being paid 2 cents a line of code being written by an amateur journalist getting 2 cents a word. Why am I even taking my time about this???

      March 28, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Reply
      • SkepticalOne

        Quit complaining about nerds and empty my trashcan.

        March 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • greg

      BTW the guy on the bike looks like one of the nerds from Myth Busters.......

      March 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  12. Dan

    I was a bike racer for many years. Why do I want this? How is this in any way better than what is used on bikes now? Heavier, more expensive, less reliable? OK, if this is your pet garage project have fun. But, really CNN, are you just looking for as much mindless filler as you can find?

    March 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
    • factChecker

      The bicycle is just a cheap platform to test the system with. Replace the traditional brakes? I think not. Traditional brakes are simple, cheap, and easy to maintain.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Reply
  13. Bob

    3 parts per quintillion reliability? Is it April 1 yet?
    And what does wireless bicycle braking have to do with counting train axles crossing a track? Did two stories get mixed up here?
    CNN is turning into the "all teh random filler than we can print" organization.

    March 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
    • peridot2

      You're the mixed-up one, Bob. The bike braking system is a test platform for real-world applications.

      Read the article again, for comprehension this time.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:45 am | Reply
  14. gggg

    So, what the consumer will eventually get is a device where the backup system weighs more than the original braking system so that any time the batteries die you'll get X extra stops so you don't die going down Lombard St in San Francisco. Some things are just not worth inventing.

    March 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  15. cavemens society

    Me use feet to

    March 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  16. Marine57

    This HAS to be pushed by battery companies...
    What a stupid idea.

    March 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  17. Nubadopofloposhopolopolis

    This idea is stupid like Christmas.

    March 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Reply
    • Onedodal

      Your name must be Christmas.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Reply
  18. wireless driver

    If you own a car made in the last couple years, you are sterring by wire, so why not brake by wire?

    March 28, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
    • peridot2

      We steer by cables. There's a big difference between wire and cable. Check out the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Dames Point Bridge, for examples.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
  19. Wingnut79

    I, for one, would NEVER EVER EVER EVER rely on a battery operated braking system on MY bicycle, ESPECIALLY a WIRELESS electric brake. What happens if the battery fails or the receiver glitches/ fails to receive the wireless signal? What would you do if the signal gets jammed? Murphy's Law rules with bicycles, the only thing I'll EVER put on my bike that relies on electricity is lights and my phone. Brakes need to be kept completely mechanical– either by cable or hydraulic!

    March 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  20. Aaron

    I could see wireless brake lights and turns signals especially on bikes due to the difficulty in routing wires through the frame etc, the brake concept is a little scary though, it would have to have one hell of a fail-safe in case something went wrong.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:57 am | Reply
  21. Bob

    scary thing is that commerical airlines manaufactures follow the same concept. Cattle' Risk Management they call it.....

    March 28, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
  22. Mark

    Interesting concept. But the old fashioned cable seems more logical, safer and more economical. This doesn't add any value other than increase the cost of production and ultimatly, price for the consumer.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply
    • Jake

      I had the same thought

      March 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  23. jim

    Fly by wire systems are just scary to me. I'll take a physical connection any day.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
  24. alexu

    Look, Ma ,no cable !...................................Look Ma no teeth !

    March 28, 2012 at 9:49 am | Reply
  25. Rob

    So is there a battery in the transmitter and another in the receiver? That's 2 batteries to remember to charge or replace... And what if it gets a bump and a small crack? Still works fine until it starts raining and water seeps in – suddenly you've no brakes in the wet.

    And finally, I personally like having feedback through the force of the brake lever – it tells me how hard I'm braking, you can feel the system mechanically and that feeling is important to overall control. Just like in a car – you get feedback through the brake and steering constantly...

    I'm sure it's an excellent testbed for the wireless research, but (as someone else said) I can only see it being useful for stunt-type applications where rotating the bars through 360 degrees is desirable...

    March 28, 2012 at 8:44 am | Reply
    • Trevor Toth

      Why is there a battery at all. Why not generate the juice real-time using the motion of the tires?

      March 28, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  26. Pete

    Pssh, the really cool kids have the iBike app and ride their bikes while sitting at home on the couch watching TV.

    March 28, 2012 at 7:39 am | Reply
  27. SixDegrees

    "Hi! I'm Clippy! It looks like you're trying to stop! Can I help you with that?"

    March 28, 2012 at 6:58 am | Reply
  28. Greg

    This sounds like a pretty silly idea to me for anything other than testing the wireless hardware. Why are bike companies interested? What happens when interference either causes the system to brake when it should not, or causes the system to fail to brake when it should? What about if the battery just runs out?

    Ever hear of Occam's razor? Or "if its not broken, don't try to fix it" ?

    March 28, 2012 at 2:07 am | Reply
  29. Markus

    a DOS attack downtown would create hell.

    March 28, 2012 at 1:32 am | Reply
  30. yahmez the mad

    The wireless brake is for the front wheel, so when the device is hacked it will throw the rider over the handlebars.
    This is a ridiculous over complication, although I see a use for it on freestyle bikes so you don't twist up the brake cable rotating the handlebars 360 degrees. Nobody else really needs this, though.

    March 28, 2012 at 12:19 am | Reply
  31. Drifter

    Relax everyone, the system will come with a button that says "in case wireless brakes fail press here"...then a loud scream will sound..."LOOK OUT BELOW!!!!". Or better yet..."in case brakes fail press CTRL ALT DELETE and wait"

    Wouldn't that be fun???

    March 27, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Reply
  32. lord thanos

    While we're at it, why are we trying to make everything hackable? Mechanical devices do have their limitations, but cannot be messed with by a guy and his device. Let's give all the bad people more tools to hurt people. EVERYTHING computerized can be hacked in someway or another, no matter how many security features it has. The world will have to wake up or everyone will be in trouble. May not be today but it will happen!

    March 27, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  33. lord thanos

    So they tested it over a trillion times before there was a problem!! IF SO then that is why our economy is busted. People are getting paid to develop technology that doesn't seem to have a good purpose. WHAT REAL GOOD DOES THIS DO FOR ANYONE!! DOES IT HELP ANYONE STARVING EAT? NO, BUT IT MAKES SOME PEOPLE RICH. Do us a favor and work on real problems!

    March 27, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Reply
  34. greg

    Let's see, you have a wireless link from the handle bars to the wheel. The handle bar transducer is an electro-MECHANICAL device. The wheel has a MECHANICAL disk brake. Where does he get all those 9's? I don't get it. I wonder how many 9's a well made standard braking system gets. This is not even proof of concept. Just a geek gimmick.

    March 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  35. lorec

    Imagine a guy on the corner with a RD jammer. Hitting that button and seeing all those bikes crashing into the cars at the intersection. He would have good fun watching them bikers say BRAKES!! NO BRAKES!! bang!

    March 27, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Reply
    • lorec

      Sorry RF Jammer, you get the point 🙂

      March 27, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Reply
  36. SixDegrees

    Interesting, but...

    You simply can't do away with a redundant mechanical system that will still work when the wireless system fails for some reason. Power brakes on cars should be the model: when power assist fails, the brakes themselves still work, although you may have to push harder to get the same stopping power. You can still stop, though, and stopping is a rather critical function that cannot be done without.

    Also, a wireless system will inevitably be subject to interference and possibly jamming. The consequences of this are potentially very, very ugly.

    March 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Reply
    • james

      Like a roadside jammer at a stop sign? Now might be the time to invest in a security device to go with the brakes. To jam a jammer.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Reply
      • cine

        Thanks champ.The mk2 i am looking at has the G60 bakres, so itb4s nice to know they are 280 mm you can never have too much brake power Hopefully it will work out, so i can finally get a track car.Thanks again

        April 30, 2012 at 9:54 am |
      • Maja

        Enjoyed the information, I come from a trcuekr family and sooo agree that people should be more familiar of their surroundings and be more cautious. Semis are huge, carry huge loads and can't stop on a dime!!!! Same goes for motorcycle riders as well, be more cautious! Thank you

        May 2, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Abdo

      Hey nice guide. Could be really useufl to many, if the whole dvd was finished.The only thing i missed was info on what car the bigger brakes came from (ib4m new at this golf business)it suggests 16v but is this from a mk2 as well? Are the G60 brakes the same or even bigger.Many questions i know Thanks for a nice video!

      April 30, 2012 at 5:44 am | Reply
  37. abdizzle404

    Work on the pedals to the chain so that the bike goes fast/slow usin' the same technology,otherwise thumbs up

    March 27, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  38. xvet

    I'm waiting for a completely wireless bike, that way I could exercise my bike without having to strain myself.


    March 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  39. bw

    What happens when the batteries die? Imagine riding a bike down a steep hill towards a busy intersection and not being able to stop as you remember that you didn't plug your bike in last night to recharge.

    March 27, 2012 at 10:35 am | Reply
    • JonPeter

      Natural selection ???

      March 27, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  40. Bruce

    I fail to see why this is better. What can be simpler, cheaper, or more reliable than a short length of bowden cable and two rubber blocks gripping the wheel rims? Even pneumatic disc brakes have more parts to fail and are vastly more expensive. Bike stores now want over $1500 for a multi-speed bike that used to sell for $150! When I was a kid I raced a ten-speed I got for free and fixed up myself and won every race I entered. Keep your fancy composites and high prices. When bikes cost more than good quality used cars I lose interest.

    March 27, 2012 at 8:54 am | Reply
    • TotallyRandomName

      If you failed to see the point in this research, then you failed to read the article. Read before you complain.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Reply
      • Greg

        I think the question is why are the bike companies interested?

        So he has a Rube-Goldberg approach to testing wireless hardware – fine.
        But why are any bike companies interested?

        March 28, 2012 at 2:11 am |
  41. PETER

    .oooooooooo3% of chance to failure to gamble your life is not must be 200% reliable all he time and anywhere

    March 27, 2012 at 4:14 am | Reply
    • Brian

      This is clearly not the statement of a scientist.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:01 am | Reply
    • iHaTeFaCeBoOk

      Imagine this one Peter. You're driving along on your bike with regular brakes. It's sunny. The wind in your hair.
      Suddenly a dog crosses the street, and you apply your regular brakes. In the process of doing that, the cables that connect your brake handles with your breaks snap.

      Would you consider that to be 200% reliable ?

      I don't think so.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
      • aaron

        That is why you have two separate brake cables

        March 27, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
      • james

        when you buy a bike you size just in case the brakes dont work you can put your ffot down and drag. if worse comes to worse you might want to cram a leg in the spokes

        March 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
      • Greg

        I've never heard of someone's brake cables just snapping like that in all my years of biking. Even if you only kind of maintain your bike properly, that isn't going to happen.

        March 28, 2012 at 9:25 am |
      • Last in Line

        I've had a cable to the gears break after just a couple years. It looked like it frayed over time, but the fraying was hidden inside the brake/gear lever. It could happen to a brake cable also. Less likely because the brake cable doesn't get bent as much.

        March 28, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  42. humberto

    so how much cheaper and reliable is this drone in adverse condictions ?

    March 27, 2012 at 2:34 am | Reply
  43. Marc

    99.9999999999997? I call BS.

    If you used your brakes 100 times a day, it'd take something like a billion years for an average failure. Nothing is that reliable. Redo your math.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Reply
    • comm0nsense

      I completely agree with you on that. I think even the metal joints on the bike have higher probably of snapping any given moment that the number there. Total bs.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  44. DeeNYC

    It's interesting concept. But what if this becomes popular and your signal gets crossed with someone riding next to you? Or pranksters hack into your signal and send you flying over your bike?

    March 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  45. john

    very cool. make the gear shifter wireless also/ voice activated could work.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Reply
    • mtbsar

      They have wireless electronic shifting. It's quite expensive.

      March 27, 2012 at 11:27 am | Reply
    • Chris

      The louder you scream, the harder the bike brakes.

      March 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
      • WDUN2KNOW

        Thanks Chris...i'm still laughing as i type this.....everyone should have a good belly laugh everyday....thanks ...

        March 27, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • derpington derpswell

      did you really think this one through john?

      March 27, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Reply

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