Tag Archives: Bikes

Will Robot Bikes bring home the bacon?

The robot bikes arrive!
The robot bikes arrive!

This post looks at the rather crazy sounding idea of robot bikes, with no rider. They are however technically feasible given the rate of advance in computing and would have many convenience, cost, and environmental advantages. As usual I’ve tried to liven the technical stuff up with a story.

Chloe has thrown a surprise barbecue. Some friends just called to say that they were in the area and since it is a nice day she suggested a barbecue. She lives in the country, twenty minutes from the nearest butcher. She called the butcher an hour ago and they promised to deliver.

The robot bike has just arrived. She unloads the meat while her partner fires up the barbecue. A second bike arrives with the bread, salad and drinks.

These bikes have no rider and navigate the narrow country lanes at safe speeds. They do not need to go fast because they carry no driver charging time by the hour. They can cope with potholes and if they need to stop they simply put their feet on the ground. They are electrically powered, and because they are so light (the heaviest thing on a bike is normally the rider), they use little energy to get up hills. Their energy consumption is around one tenth of that used by an electric car, which is itself much more energy efficient than a diesel. They are the lowest cost way to deliver goods.

In 2050 they are common. They have transformed some parts of the world, notably Africa, by their ability to deliver drugs, food, and equipment across rough roads using only locally generated solar power to recharge their batteries. There are many cities around the world where the roads are simply too small and crowded for cars and vans, and where these robot bikes  are much easier to accommodate.

Why can’t this happen now? Obviously self-driving cars are becoming available. Robot bikes are a further technical challenge but they can be built. A Chinese company is starting their development and some US companies are looking at them for military applications.

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Can Bikes be cool?

This post is about electric bikes. They work by helping with the effort of pedalling. Hills are no longer a problem because little effort is required. They can play a big part in a green future. I apologise for the picture. It seems very hard to draw a bike and rider, and I don’t think I’ve found the best way of colouring it using PAINT.net. Any advice is welcome.

Cycling from the shops
Cycling from the shops

It is 2050. Pete is a young professional who lives at the top of a hill. The local town, including the shops, the railway, and the restaurants are at the bottom. After shopping in the town he loads his beer into the panniers, and cycles easily home up the hill. When he gets home he isn’t even sweating.

He isn’t sweating because the electric bike helped him up the hill, but it didn’t need much energy to do that. The energy used to go uphill depends on the weight of a vehicle. His body, bike and groceries weigh under 100 kg. A car weighs over 10 times as much. His round trip therefore consumed less than a tenth of the energy used by a car, and since that small amount of energy can be easily obtained from carbon free sources his carbon emissions are effectively zero.

Pete knows all this and so do his friends. He cycles because they would look down on him if he didn’t.  It is uncool to emit carbon without good reason.  He loves being seen around on his bike.

Pete also uses the bike because it is quicker. He lives a mile (1.6 kilometres) from the shops. His bike will do that distance in around 5 minutes. A car would do the actual journey a little quicker, but he would have to mess around finding a car parking space and might have to park away from the shops.

Isn’t it cool to bike now? Only with the right gear and with a carbon fibre bike. That sort of thing is fine as recreation but not if you are cycling with a purpose – to go to the shops, to the pub, or the gym. The time required to put the kit on is too great, the kit looks odd in a supermarket, and the  bike is too costly to leave around.

We need to make it cool to just get on a simple bike and go, wearing normal clothes.  The bike needs space to carry stuff. The gear needs to be practical. It shouldn’t be necessary to have a shower when you get home. The coolness needs to attach to the fact that such a journey protects the planet and is less hazardous to others than a car.

There are some other factors to overcome if bike use is to spread, notably fear of traffic. Councils can therefore help. 20 mph limits are bike friendly because cars overtake less often and more slowly. Junctions need to be designed to be safe for bikes. Road layouts need to ensure that drivers, cyclists and pedestrians can exist in harmony.

Most of all maybe we need a publicity campaign. Celebrities need to be seen cycling on ordinary bikes in everyday clothes. Adverts need to show people how to use an everyday bike – how to carry shopping, how to make sure the bike isn’t stolen. Most of all we need people to understand how much carbon is emitted by cars, and that it is socially unacceptable for a healthy person to use a car when there are low energy alternatives.