Apple Patents May Introduce Us To The Smart Bicycle

Leave it to Apple (whom we love, BTW, but are starting to get a little tired of their hijinks) to proclaim the coming of the smart bicycle, thanks to them.

In a patent filed recently with the USPTO, Apple has dreamt up a system that would allow for all part of the bicycle to provide data that, combined with the iPhone’s (or other as-yet-unannounced trinket) GPS, gyroscope and accelerometer to provide direction, speed, power, incline, altitude, location and more to the rider. More exciting, though, is the patent’s mention of communication via cellular service and WiFi that would allow teams or groups to share data among themselves while riding.

While Apple’s integration will undoubtedly make the user experience pretty darn good, this isn’t the first system that’s proposed basically the same thing, as some people are suggesting. Most recently, there’s Glympse, which lets people track you in real time. More bicycle specific, MapMyRide just added similar features and OutFront lets you publish your routes in real time. Most ambitious, though, is PedalBrain’s system, which would basically capture and provide all of the same data via 3rd party ANT+ sensors, giving Apple-phobes a way to avoid using a completely Apple-based system that probably won’t play nice with others.

The upside to said Apple-based system is in the details and magical claims made in the patent filing. Hit ‘more’ to start dreaming…

DISPLAYS:
The patent mentions liquid crystal display (LCD), light emitting diode (LED) display, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display, surface-conduction electron-emitter display (SED), carbon nanotubes, nanocrystal displays, or any other suitable type of display that could be incorporated in or coupled to the bike. This takes it beyond merely making a mount for existing iPhones and iPods. Most likely, Apple’s just covering their bases, but fanatics will see this as a vision of future Apple displays.

Oh, it also mentions a video projector, head-up display, or three-dimensional / holographic display.

SENSORS AND DATA:
Magical displays aside, the real interesting stuff comes from the ideas mentioned by PatentlyApple.com about the sensors and data.

There are the usual suspects of heart rate, position, lap times and position, speed, cadence, etc. Then it gets good. They mention measuring “wind speed, force applied to particular bicycle components (e.g., pedals), cadence, derailleur setting, heart rate, calories burned, air time, falls, impacts received, jump height or any other characteristic or metric that could be determined from the output of one or more sensors or electronic device components and that could be of use to a cyclist.”

If they can pull off measuring air time and impacts, that would be pretty cool. Oregon Scientific’s new helmet cam already measures G-Force, allowing you to see how hard you’re pushing it through the corners or landing those jumps, but it certainly doesn’t provide the kitchen sink that Apple’s talking about. And after all, Apple’s been known to put cameras on a few things, although you might have to wait for the second generation *cough, ipad* to get the feature everyone knows they’re going to include…meaning early adopters will end up with the original iBikeComputer to stick on their sweetie’s bicycle never to be used.

INPUT AND INFORMATION
The schematics above show Apple’s rough concepts for information display and user input options.  It’d be touch screen, like we’re all used to now, but there’s also mention of having voice activated input, as well as input from shifters, sensors, etc.

Like the Nike+iPod system, the patent mentions recording and sharing workouts, routes and info. It also mentions being able to view real time, turn-by-turn instructions and the ability to find routes and workouts from others based on the distance, effort or other metrics you want to use to do a ride. Heck, it even mentions showing reviews of proposed rides to see if they suck or not. We think the real value in that will be to report and check on unsafe rides or routes or to instantly capture and report reckless drivers’ license plate numbers.

Input methods again mention touchscreen input or buttons on the bike, gear or clothing (ie. buttons or microphone on helmet or jersey).

The graphics on the right in the pic above show options for sharing your ride and finding others that you’re friends with. A little more dangerously, there are options mentioned for sharing message and info with riders, which means taking your eyes off the road and hands off the bars, not something we see passing through the legal department intact without some serious precautions such as only allowing text entry while stopped.

Figure 10 above shows a really cool feature: real time information about your riding buddies.

CAVEATS
OK, the obvious one here is safety of use while riding. We’re not arguing that this doesn’t represent some totally awesome features and that most likely Apple will do a phenomenal job of making it exceedingly user friendly. What we’d like to suggest is that drivers and attorneys will no doubt use this as a “share of fault” or mitigating factor when determining the already extremely lax penalties placed on drivers for hitting or killing a cyclist. The other thing, which sadly more people will really be concerned about, is battery life. I’ve run MapMyRide on my fully charged iPhone 3GS and it barely made it 90 minutes.

MORE INFO
The patent application 20100198453 was originally filed in Q1 2009 and just made public a couple of days ago thanks to PatentlyApple.com. It should be noted that Apple, like most technology companies, file patents all the time just to protect intellectual capital and prevent others from getting a leg up. Whether this ever sees the light of day is anyone’s guess. Given Apple’s growth into more mass market, mobile devices, this actually seems like a step backward if you consider that this would be a very niche item among a relatively small audience (performance cyclists). If they put a more commuter spin on it, the European market for it could be much larger, but in the U.S., they’d be looking at a relatively small consumer base considering the effort put into it. And that’s where the other part of the patent application makes it interesting. It claims to be useable for any sort of transportation, making it potentially very useful for worried parents of teen drivers, fleet management, rental cars, etc. All of a sudden, the market looks pretty darn good, and helps Apple infiltrate more businesses and homes…and as we all know, once bitten, most people catch the Apple bug.

All we’re waiting for now is the next Apple keynote event when Lance Armstrong strolls out on stage with Steve Jobs to co-announce his investment in Apple.  Then, of course, RadioShack will become an authorized Apple retail and they’ll set up mini Genius Bars in the back, except that they’ll be staffed mostly with high school kids that don’t know an amp from an ohm.

Comments

AK - 08/09/10 - 12:20pm

Not really sure where the patentable invention is here… all of these things are already in practice take a look at the latest Garmins, iBike and any of the ANT+ power meters. I wouldn’t be sure this will ever issue.

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