The Rise of E-Bike 2019
With the falling cost of batteries, increase in range, and innovation in motor design E-Bikes (push bikes powered by an electric motor and battery) are on the rise as the overall cost of ownership falls. Innovation in E-Bikes has driven (or pedalled!) the industry to a position where a typical consumer can seriously consider buying one as it becomes less of a luxury or exclusive item and becomes more of a standard feature.
On top some of the more traditional innovations we’ve seen come to the E-Bike market such as better motors we’ve also started to see some great never before seen technology. As IoT technology becomes more mature, connected services are coming to E-Bikes in ways that enrich the user experience and increase the value proposition making E-Bikes even more compelling. For a developer’s point-of-view, Detekt is breaking E-Bike and its core-technologies into many elements as follows including anti-theft securing, bike controlling, cloud connecting, public monitoring, and powering
E-Bike Locking System
The humble lock has been a keeping our belongs safe for thousands of years and, over the last hundred or so years, has gone largely unchanged. With almost 400,000 bicycles stolen each year in the UK alone (an alarming one every 90 seconds), I think it’s reasonable to say that the humble lock could still do with an upgrade. Fortunately, some very smart and hardworking people have devoted themselves to tackling this very problem. Companies such as Linka Lock have developed a smart lock called Leo. A padlock that’s always connected to the frame of your bike (so you never leave it behind) it automatically locks as it senses you walking away using the companion app on your smartphone. Powered by a battery that lasts a year on a single charge it also comes with a GPS to locate your bike in the event it is successfully stolen allowing you to give the precise location to the Police to recover your stolen bike. It also has a set of Accelerometers embedded in the lock that detect when the bike is moved, giving off a loud audible alarm deterring criminals from targeting your bike. As smart locks like these become the norm, hopefully, they will deter thieves from even attempting to steal your bike as it becomes less and less worth the risk.
Image source: http://linkalock.com/
E-Bike Application (Apps for Smartphone)
No matter what the product or the industry really smartphones have been the biggest enabler of the IoT out of any other technology. Many products are only able to be controlled by a smartphone because of the human-machine interface that a high-quality smartphone touchscreen provides. Devices that we can connect to and control that doesn’t have a screen or interface are referred to as ‘headless’ devices because they lack a human-machine interface. Bicycles are headless devices because for the large part they don’t have any screens or button interfaces and as smart technology is enabled on them they are largely controlled by smartphone apps. Linka Lock, for instance, has a smartphone app that enables their remote locking and tracking technology to control their hardware. Something that traditionally would have only been possible by physically interacting with the product. So smartphone apps have enabled us to connect to E-Bikes in a way that means we can start to extract data from them that was possibly not so easily accessed. Such as battery status, cadence, distance travelled, speeds, and location data using a built-in GPS. Going forward though a far more revolutionary innovation we are seeing that is enabled by leveraging smartphone apps are bike sharing services being created that allow users to flexibly rent E-Bikes by the hour, in services much more akin to UBER than to traditional bike hire.
Image source: https://jump.com/press-kit/
A startup in Sacramento California called JUMP is one such company delivering dockless E-Bikes that you can locate and rent using a smartphone app. Using the UBER platform JUMP allows you to simply the UBER app, check to see the availability of UBER’s in your area and if you aren’t happy with the options can opt instead to locate their nearest JUMP bike on a map that will navigate you towards it using the quickest route. Once you are then with the JUMP bike you can unlock it, hop on and it will propel you through the city to your destination allowing you to go farther, get there faster, and have more fun. Then once you arrive attach the built-in D-Lock to the nearest fixture and you are automatically billed via the app. Easy!
Image source: https://jump.com/press-kit/
Inbuilt Anti-Theft Systems
So with all products, there are vulnerabilities and weakness. As a product developer, you try your hardest to mitigate these but realistically you can’t overcome every challenge and still produce an affordable, usable product. As amazing as the smart locks we discussed earlier are there is just one vulnerability that I can see which is, if in the rare occasion a criminal is able to defeat the lock and physically remove it then no matter how much GPS tracking technology you have it’s irrelevant because it is no longer actually with the bike.
Now E-Bikes have a battery built into the bike to power the motor but what this also enables is the addition of built-in GPS locators built into the bike itself. Meaning that the only way a criminal could defeat them is by destroying the bike thus destroying profits/gains from the theft. The Capacita from Pure Cycles is one such bike. Described as “The Most Affordable Smart Cargo E-Bike” on their IndieGoGo the Capacita is a cargo bike aimed at parents who want to increase their load carrying capacity whilst leveraging the advantages of an E-Bike. The bike has a GPS locator discreetly built into the frame allowing 24-hour monitoring of its location and triggering a smartphone notification if the bike is tampered with. It also allows you to monitor it’s location remotely via the app giving you peace of mind.
Image source: https://www.purecycles.com/
The Smart E-Bike Monitoring System (SEMS)
It’s here that I think it’s worth us taking a look at the broader picture. Beyond just E-Bikes and into the wider IoT ecosystem. Devices that are connected to the internet are what form the Internet of Things (IoT). All of that data and information has to pulled together and centrally controlled in what is commonly referred to as “the Cloud” or alternatively in a “Cloud System”. This has become the common marketing phrase referring to the servers and software that monitor, control, oversee and leverage the data that comes from IoT devices. E-Bikes that include GPS location and any remote accessing are by nature IoT devices. This means that they too will require remote control systems that monitor and oversee them. For E-Bikes, the Smart E-Bike Monitoring System or SEMS is software solutions that collect data, provide battery status or health info, monitor the locations of assets and health of the hardware. For businesses having IoT enabled bikes that they either sell or manage a fleet of this kind of backhaul data is absolutely invaluable. One application where this could be invaluable is being able to get up to the minute health status on batteries out in the field. This means that you could predict when an end users battery is going to fail inside warranty before the end users battery actually fails by measuring and identifying characteristics displayed by the battery that is transmitted back to your system. This would allow you to contact the customer and organise a repair long before your customer ever has to experience a battery failure. As a business, you are able to manage warranty issues predictably, and for the customer, their experience with your brand is elevated above and beyond your competitors.
Image source: http://www.smart-ebikes.com/
The Smart E-Bike Monitoring System was a study first implemented by a research group at the University of Brighton. It is an open-source platform that uses the real-time acquisition of usage data such as GPS, rider control data (level of assistance from the motor), and other custom sensor data to feed an online interface for data analysis, and for riders to view their own data enabling them to share this to social media. This study was successfully deployed on 35 E-Bikes in the City of Brighton (UK) and creates an open source platform that others can leverage on their own fleet of E-Bikes and further demonstrates the viability of the SEMS systems for gathering data on users.
Image source: http://www.smart-ebikes.com/
As a result of their study, they found that because the users had access to an E-Bike 20% fewer miles were being driven, 76% said they would cycle more in the future if they had access to an E-Bike and the proportion of participants in the study saying they would cycle to work at least one day a week rose from 29% to 73% if they had access to an E-Bike. A really promising study that has put some quantities to the demand in the marketplace for E-Bikes but more importantly was able to demonstrate that access to an E-Bike also increased demand for an E-Bike.
Bikes, in general, are getting smarter with smartphone apps they can leverage the sensors on board your phone and infer data about your ride from there. Apps such as Strava (A popular cycling app) use for location data from your phone paired with maps data to give you insights into things such as your speed, incline, and overall distance travelled. E-Bikes, however, have more specific needs and therefore need more specific sensors to address those needs. One of the biggest features of E-Bikes is the ability to “actively assist” you with pedalling. That is the bikes ability to intelligently ‘know’ when to turn the electric motor on and how much power it needs to deliver you to keep the ride smooth no matter the conditions or the incline you might be cycling. Some of the biggest innovations that have enabled E-Bikes have been in developing Torque sensors.
Historically cadence sensors were the norm for controlling E-Bike motors. Cadence sensors are a basic sensor use a magnet that is connected to the Crankshaft that simply detects if you are pedalling. When it detects that you are pedalling it will turn the motor on, and when you stop pedalling it will turn the motor off. It is then up to the user to select the level of assistance that they require and adjust it if it becomes too much or is too little based on the conditions and their own fatigue level. In essence, it’s an on/off switch that simply provides a set output. The main advantage to the cadence sensors is that they are cheap, and easily implemented and ultimately it gives the user full control of how much assistance they are given. Albeit semi-manually with the user required to define the output level of the motor.
Users have, however, reported that Cadence sensor controlled E-Bikes can feel: Jerky, laggy and feel counterintuitive. Fortunately, in response to this, the industry has developed Torque sensors. This is a totally different technology and is considered the advanced control system. It is based around a precision strain gauge that can actually measure the amount of force that you are applying to the pedal over 1,000 times per second. Using this data it can ‘intelligently’ feedback to the motor to provide the appropriate amount of force based on the difficulty of the ride at any given point. So if you imagine a rider cycling up a particularly steep hill, they are required to exert a large amount of force onto the pedals. The Torque sensor would recognise this and would increase the amount of power the motor is assisting their pedalling. Ultimately this makes the ride more responsive, only uses power appropriately as you need it, and riders report feels more intuitive. The downside is that compared to the basic cadence sensors it is more expensive. The best systems will use a combination of both and those are referred to as dual sensor systems.
Additionally, an E-Bike could be equipped with Accelerometers used to measure tilt, inclination, acceleration and deceleration. If this were paired with GPS data, and torque sensor data then delivered to a smartphone app they could be used to deliver an entire riding profile to the user giving them deeper insights into their cycling then was previously possible.
The prime mover of the E-Bike and really the enabler of the entire E-Bike movement is the development and innovation surrounding the Battery and the Power system. The main innovation can be summed up simply that batteries are getting smaller, lighter with increased capacity. Long gone are the days of the of the older 18650 cell dimensions as bike manufacturers start to leverage the most advanced batteries such as the 21700 cell type. This is the exact same battery that Tesla is using in their cars providing longer range, more power and making it easier to integrate into the bike frame. By leveraging the 21700 cell form factor in the future we can expect to see more E-Bikes that have the batteries integrated into the frame and a boom in the E-Bike market.
With the huge investment going into electric car battery technology, the E-Bike industry is a fortunate downstream market that can leverage this technology to drive it’s own product capabilities. All while investing $0 in battery R&D allowing them to focus that capital on product design, engineering and supply chain. Battery capacity being what it is manufacturers could also invest the saved capital in finding ways to use the battery more efficiently. This is the area over the next few years that I believe we will see the most innovation. The technology already exists to switch the battery off when it is low on power, and also when it hasn’t been used in a long time, but software that can intelligently manage the battery output to optimise its output for either distance or maximum output will be the next big innovation to come.
With all of these breakthrough technologies, Detekt as a product developer, we are foreseeing that 2019 will inevitably be the breakthrough year for E-Bikes in becoming a part of global mainstream for both demand sides and supplies. With more ride-sharing platforms are now emerging in many countries, and an uptick in adoption, and a downward trend in battery and motor costs, it’s only a matter of time before they become a standard feature for bikes in the future. So with all this great news on E-Bikes. The real question is, “Will 2019 be the year that you will buy your first E-Bike?” To learn more about developing E-Bikes of your own and how experience of a first riding E-Bikes is, come to have a ride with us at Detekt.