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Wireless Bicycle Brake Only Fails Three Out Of A Trillion Times

Would you trust your stopping power to a wireless signal? It’s the future of braking, and it could save your life.

Wireless technology is all around us. It’s just starting to penetrate the transportation industry, with wireless charging for electric vehicles, wireless road trains, and more. Now researchers at Saarland University in Germany are bringing wireless to one of the lowest-tech (but most efficient) transportation technologies out there: the bicycle.

Image by Angelika Klein

The wireless bicycle brake—which only works on cruisers for now—removes the need for a brake cable and brake lever, replacing them with a wireless sensor that automatically tells the brake to activate when a rubber grip on the right handle is squeezed (the harder the squeeze, the more the bike brakes). The system consists of a cigarette pack-sized plastic box on the handlebar that sends signals to a receiver at the end of the bike’s fork. That signal is in turn sent to an actuator that turns the radio signal into mechanical power to activate the disk brake. Additional senders attached to the bike ensure greater reliability.

Professor Holger Hermanns, one of the researchers involved in the wireless braking project, had this to say in a statement: "Wireless networks are never a fail-safe method. That’s a fact that’s based on a technological background." Not exactly comforting stuff, but Hermanns says that the system has 99.999999999997% reliability (how precise!), which means it will fail just three times in a trillion braking attempts. How safe do you feel about that metal cable?

Hermanns is currently in talk with bike brake manufacturers. Anti-lock wireless braking (to prevent skidding in wet conditions) and traction control may not be far behind. And if the wireless bicycle braking system ends up being commercialized, the researchers might move on to the next step—planes, vehicles, and trains.

Anyone excited about the prospect of wireless anti-lock brakes may have to wait awhile. The cumbersome wireless system needs to be shrunk considerably before it makes sense for most cyclists.

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