Joining other developments in electric bike technology, a compact electric drive called Rubbee electrifies most regular bicycles in less than a minute. Cyclists looking for the occasional extra boost on the road can clamp the electric drive just below the seat (fitting tubes ranging from 22-35 mm), where its polyurethane cast friction wheel meets the bike’s back tire. A throttle, installed on the handlebars, stays on the bike with or without the drive. Pedaling is optional once Rubbee is switched on; its wheel turns the back tire, allowing the cyclist to travel for 15 miles and reach a top speed of 15 miles per hour without needing to pedal.
Its integrated battery pack ensures easy travel on level terrain or at an incline, and can be charged every day for 5 years without loosing range. Its integrated suppression system, enabled by a removable fixation pin, keeps a constant force on the tire. Rubbee can stay on the bike without touching the back tire with the pin put in place, useful for when Rubbee’s out of juice or when a cyclist would rather travel by pedal power alone.
The London-based company, currently seeking funds via Kickstarter, states that Rubbee gets its name for the way the friction wheel rubs the bicycle tire without significant wear. It weighs 14 lbs, which could take some getting used to for those keeping Rubbee installed while it's turned off, but only takes 2 hours to fully recharge, and includes an LED tail light for more visible travel at night. While it costs £699 (roughly $1073), for those who can afford it, a drive like this would give cyclists some help up those hills.
image via Rubbee Ltd
Most of the new power technology we learn about these days falls on one side or the other of the power-generation/power-storage divide. But a power cell developed by researcher Zhong Lin Wang at Georgia Tech both produces and stores power in the same tiny unit.
The self-charging cell uses a "piezoelectric membrane that drives lithium ions from one side of the cell to the other when the membrane is deformed by mechanical stress. The lithium ions driven through the polarized membrane by the piezoelectric potential are directly stored as chemical energy using an electrochemical process."
According to the researchers, the direct transfer of physical energy (such as a shoe hitting pavement) to chemical energy is as much as five times as efficient as separate generation and storage systems.
The self-charging power cell is only a device the size of a coin, and only provides enough power to operate a small calculator. But the potential for use in wearable computing (as well as the everpresent "military applications," given DARPA sponsorship of the research) make this technology an interesting one to watch for further development.
images: Gary Meek/GT Research News
Soccket is a soccer ball that harnesses energy with every kick and volley it gets. Developed by Harvard grads, the toy boasts a successful Kickstarter campaign, surpassing a funding goal of $75,000 by over $17,000 last month. A pendulum inside the Soccket ball swings when the ball moves, generating clean energy for a rechargeable battery stored inside. According to Uncharted Play, Soccket’s makers, thirty minutes of play translates into three hours of light from its companion LED lamp. Pictured above, the little lamp is currently the only appliance it can charge, by being plugged directly into the ball. The ball itself seems relatively unencumbered by its tech features; according to the campaign’s Kickstarter video, Soccket is only about an ounce heavier than a standard soccer ball, and it's filled with specialized foam, so it won’t deflate.
The Soccket is one item among an extensive group of "eco" products that takes an activity usually independent of producing energy (in this case, a fun one) and turns it into an opportunity for clean energy generation. Recalling other kinetic energy devices, like the nPower PEG, which powers handheld electronics while you walk or ride a bike, there’s something immediately appealing about turning play into power. If I want to play soccer anyway during the day, why not get a ball that’ll power a light to read by at night?
However, the primary purpose of the Soccket -- and the main way it’s being marketed, to help poor communities around the world -- has generated some important critiques. There are much more efficiently powered LED lamps available, including these designed and built by a former EcoGeek writer. Is a soccer ball that powers a little lamp truly helpful aid to communities in need, or does it simply sound cool to well-intentioned, privileged individuals?
Aaron Ausland, of the blog Staying for Tea, argues that framing a soccer ball as an eco-friendly "solution" for poor communities "grossly overplays the potential of the ball and misleads investors and buyers about the social impact they get for their money." Ausland, in addition to his thought-provoking list of problems with the Soccket, points out that the Soccket’s generative powers are roughly the equivalent of "four weakly-rechargeable AA batteries." The conversation doesn’t end at his critiques, as Ausland posted a response from Julia C. Silverman, co-founder of Uncharted Play, who emphasized the company’s intent to work with communities, continue their evaluation of the Soccket’s impact, and focus on fun for children, noting that they capped the Soccket’s power so play for kids doesn’t become work for power.
image via Soccket Kickstarter
We've discussed the pedestrian resource Walk Score before, but there's a new company taking a different angle on rating the walkability of communities. While Walk Score rates addresses, Walkonomics rates streets. The UK-based company has only covered locations in England as well as US cities New York and San Francisco so far, but Walkonomics has the ambitious goal to rate every street in the world, according to criteria that go way beyond distance traveled. Using publically available data and user ratings to fill in the gaps, Walkonomics attempts to account for everything from hilliness and crime statistics to how much fun or relaxing it is to walk in any given area. Eight criteria are rated individually and tallied into a street's total score, so if some factors are more important than others to users, the score's breakdown is readily available.
Adam Davies, the company's founder, envisions Walkonomics will eventually offer customized directions based on each user's needs. Unfortunately, as Pando Daily reports, the company has a long way to go before this is possible. If they continue to rely heavily on publicly available data, opening in places like my small Connecticut city seems to be far off. However, if the company can continue to expand and gain more resources, they'd serve as another widely-available source that helps pedestrians, encourages walking, and emphasizes the importance of designing more pedestrian-friendly communities.
That last one's a stretch, to be sure--of course no app alone can engender or even promote changes in urban design. However, the more pedestrians literally take to the (safe to walk) streets, perhaps the more communities will increase their walkability and make structural changes to accommodate. Any technology that can empower pedestrians seems (pardon the obvious pun) a step in the right direction.
If you happen to live in New York City, San Francisco, England, or plan on walking through these places anytime soon and have a smartphone, you may find some use in their iPhone or Android app. According to their website, they've rated over 600,000 streets in these locations.
image: screen capture via Walkonomics website