The bicycle can tell us how to make it better

Over the years bicycle design has changed. Materials were upgraded as technology advanced, and accumulated knowledge helped bicycle builders make improvements along the way. But deep analysis with the intent to make meaningful improvements has not been widely embraced. Reasearchers at UC Davis are looking to expand into this frontier by letting the bicycle tell us how it can be improved. This is one of the test bikes they’ve been working on, which is mainly aimed at data harvesting. They’re hoping to find some real improvements based mostly on how the machine can get out of the rider’s way as much as possible. The thought here is that the rider’s body makes up 80-90% of the volume of the vehicle and should be accommodated in every way possible.

Sure, this could be a case of trying to build a better mouse trap. But listening to the discussion in the video after the break really drives home the complex issues of stability and locomotion that go into these seemingly simple vehicles. We’re going to guess the final recommendations will not involve making the bike five times taller.

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Miniature balancing robot

It might not be as elegant or technologically-advanced as a Segway or a motorized unicycle, but this easily constructed 2-wheeled robot might be a fun project for a free afternoon. The heart of the balancing mechanism is an SPDT switch with a button cell attached that reverses the motor when the robot begins to tip in one direction. It’s not controllable and it tends to fall over quite a bit, but it’s a good starting point and could be refined by lowering the center of gravity or figuring out a simple way to change the motor speed based on how far the robot has tipped over. There are no accelerometers or tilt switches so the components could be sourced from a parts bin, and its simple design definitely leaves a lot of room for improvement.