Found: Auto alignment patent for electronic rear derailleurs could shift expectations

Eldon Goates automatic rear derailleur adjustment patent

Eldon Goates automatic rear derailleur adjustment patent
Prior art for electronic shifting systems sets the stage, but it’s the new sensors that change the game. (images from patent filings)

Electronic gear shifting is here to stay, and it’s amazing. But could it be better? Engineer Eldon Goates thinks so, and his patent application shows how. With a few sensors and some programming, he’s designed a way for electronic rear derailleurs to automatically adjust themselves to the perfect position for each gear, regardless of environmental conditions. But that’s the obvious and least impressive reason why this is exciting…

Eldon Goates automatic rear derailleur adjustment patent

Say you’re on a seriously rough road and the derailleur’s jangling all around. This system could keep it perfectly aligned through all of your shifts. That’s great, but here’s where it gets really good: Say those rough roads send you to the ground and you bend your derailleur hanger a little. No problem, this will automatically fix the alignment and keep you shifting and riding smooth.

Or, say you flat and need to swap wheels (cyclocross, pro peloton, etc.). Just grab a wheel and throw it in there and the sensors will detect any difference in the cassette’s placement and realign the derailleur for perfect shifts. The patent even mentions being able to accommodate different numbers of gears, say, having to go from an 11-speed to 10-speed cassette in a pinch. It also enables the rear derailleur to slightly overshoot a shift to ensure the chain moves under high tension, then center itself in the proper position.

Lastly, this opens up the door to more gears fitting into the same amount of space. The gap between cogs on an 11-speed cassette is tight, but 12 speed is almost assuredly coming. If the electronics can precisely align the derailleur with the more closely spaced cogs, there’s less need to build in “room for error” and more room for another cog (or two).

How it works: There are two sensing methods described, though it leaves the door open to using other sensing methods as are available. The first is using vibration signatures to pick up on unwanted or abnormal sounds as the chain moves through the drivetrain. A small piezo or microphone sensor could pick up on the noises and create an ongoing feedback loop to maintain the optimum position.

The second is with a positional sensor integrated into the top pulley on the rear derailleur. Figure 4 shows a traditional layout, with a small degree of lateral freedom built into the pulley’s axle, allowing it to self center on the desired cog. This is the natural state of things and allows it to self center in a way that reduces drag and keeps it aligned. But, because there’s only a small amount of lateral “float” available, any misalignment in the system could prevent it from completely centering itself under the cog.

The solution is to introduce slightly more float (Fig. 5, shown mid-shift), then put a positional sensor (magnetic, capacitive, contact, etc.) in place so that the derailleur can know when the pulley is centered on its axle. Since the pulley will naturally position itself in alignment with the cog, the derailleur can then adjust itself to center the pulley on its axle, putting the entire system in perfect alignment. During shifts, contact sensors could feel when the pulley is pushed to one side then re-center it once the prescribed shift is made.

The two solutions could be combined, or other sensors could be used as such technologies are developed. The system records and learns the optimum position for each gear over time. It could also include wheel speed and other sensors to help the system fine tune its vibration measuring methods to improve overall performance and reduce processing power demands. It could even be programmed to monitor your cadence, speed, incline and other factors then perform shifts automatically to keep you in the right zone.

Comments

40 thoughts on “Found: Auto alignment patent for electronic rear derailleurs could shift expectations

  1. Wouldn’t additional float (like in Fig. 5) negatively affect shift quality? Maybe electronics could compensate, but it seems like it would require overshifting in order to function properly

    1. yes it requires more overshift. I would guess on an electronic system this easy to deal with.

      Overshift is a problem for mechanical systems because because of how the cable spool in a shifter works.

      1. I’m waiting for the day the Rohloff’s get as cheap, strong, and light as derailleur setups. Or if we ever get a wide range carbon Hammerschmidt design. I would totally be cool with a 3-speed setup if it provided a 50t equivelent, a 20, and a 10.

      2. EDIT: Apparently the Efneo Gearbox Planetary Crankset offers 179% gear range with 28T, 40T, 50T drives. If they could somehow do a crankset with 12-24-50 range, you could pair it with a 20t rear cog and end up with a ratio similar to that of a 10-50t cassette and 32t ring. That’d be rad, but perhaps impossible outside of a fullsize (ie heavy and expensive) gearbox.

    1. Never. There are a lot of people, me included, who are simply not impressed or obsessed with turning everything to 1X. 1X has its place, but I’d never want some giant dinner-plate sized cassette on the back of my bike. Not to mention severe chainline angles and I can’t even imagine the dish that would be required for 14. Big time pass, pass, pass!

      1. @Allan- What if the 14 is accomplished by narrower gears and chain and fits in the same space as 11 does now? You might think that would reduce the strength of chain and gears alike, but supposedly 11 is more durable than 8 was. What if durability also doesn’t suffer? And… having a dinner plate on the back of the bike is purely a looks argument. It looks goofy. So what?

  2. Given the proper materials wouldn’t a magnetic sensor or two do a much better job of providing feedback, it could utilize a magnetic field in which the gears exist as some virtual/physical device to the CPU involved.

    Certainly the microphone is interesting, I think the sensor deal sounds tricky to accomplish in comparison.

  3. No thanks. Bikes don’t need batteries.
    My gears change fine. Maintain them and use them properly. What’s next, chips in bananas so they peel themselves?
    Driverless cars, watch-phones, electronic trainers,what a load of crap. Maybe these (admittedly very clever) inventors could make better use of their time with innovative solutions to problems like homelessness, hunger, water shortage, aids, cancer, instead of trivial shit that the majority of people don’t need, want, or could afford.

    1. nothing is stopping you from being a luddite. why ride bikes or have hobbies at all? no one cares about how much or little technology makes life ideal for you.

    2. Technology could help with some of those problems. But inventors of mechanical devices are not the same inventors who work on social problems, and certainly not for medical ones.

    3. Wake up Stu. Driverless cars will have a major positive impact on life. Nothing trivial about it. Most cars are idle most of the time, wasting valuable space (parking) and valuable resources (all that metal, plastic, etc. just sitting there unusued most of the time). Driverless cars will allow us to radically reduce the amount of resources expended on cars and will free up vast amounts of real estate (i.e., parking spaces on streets, parking garages, etc.). Time to join the 21st century.

      1. Yep, the wonderful driverless car will be brought to you by the same companies who …
        a) (GM) put many lives in danger for years after waiting to recall and changed a 0.57$ defective switch that led to 124 death
        b) Waited forever to recall and STILL use a dangerous chemical that when exposed to humidity may lead to sudden explosion of air bags
        c) (VW) lied about their engine consumption to make more money,

        I can’t wait to see those driverless car on the road !

        1. But all those issues are correctable. Current human drivers are about as good as we’ll ever get, which is really poor on a collective basis.

          So you have two options.
          A) poor, that stays the same.
          B) “poor” (maybe?) but will improve and over time and issues can be identified, audited and corrected.
          (option B is driverless car tech)

          You would be like the person arguing for typewriters because the first home computers could be difficult to sync to your printer.

        2. If you can’t wait to see those cars, you should take a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. Google has dozens of driverless cars on the roads & highways there. And the navigation and traffic and human drivers are all crazy out there.

    4. Stu, I’d love to. I’d love to use my brain power on solutions to any of the items you listed! All we need is a business model that allows smart folks to keep the bills paid and their families fed — Yeah man, do it, and I’m in. Are you ready to step up and fund it?
      Smart people are going to innovate where ever they are, and you’ll find them where the economics make sense. If you have good job openings in fields of social responsibility, it’s easy to fill them. Step up buddy.

  4. Patents like these drive me nuts. To me this is totally a obvious combination patent, vibration and positional sensors exist adding them to an RD is not really a novel idea. Don’t even get me started on claim 4, they basically are trying to claim a RD with any sensor and any computer processor with coded instructions to correct pulley alignment.

    Not to mention the questions of how any of this would actually work. For example, how will vibrations from rough terrain not be confused with vibrations from misalignment. It is totally clear that none of this has actually be manufactured and that Wickworks has no capability of bringing this to market.

    1. The goal of a patent is to make it as easy to violate as possible. That means it’s very difficult for another company to avoid violating your patent.

      It’s up to the patent office to determine whether or not the wording is too broad. Many patents are initially rejected because the inventor is trying to protect too many possibilities, unfairly stifling competition.

      Heck, they approved Ellsworth’s nonsense ICT theory…

      1. Yep writing excessively broad claims is the name of the game. Most patents also include pretty extensive dependent claims narrowing the scope to increase the odds of being granted.

        I hope the patent office does due diligence and kicks this patent to the curb but like you I have my doubts.

    2. No CNC shop is going to bring this to market. This would take some serious electronics and software chops to develop.

      If and when Shimano or SRAM decide to build something like this, they will ignore the patent and dare the author to sue. Patent suits are very expensive. Is this guy really going to spend 6 figures trying to defend a shaky patent?

      1. Likely the inventor will ask for a small licensing fee and one of the big S’s will have to decide if they want to take the risk of delaying a product delivery that cost at least 7 figures to develop.

        1. Indeed, that’s exactly what will happen. I expect that big S (whoever it is) to refuse to pay, since the patent won’t stand up in court.

    1. Very little, possibly. The strain gages in power meters natively measure in the kilohertz range. They run for months off coin-cell-type batteries.

  5. Stu, don’t worry, you aren’t alone — lots of us are just fine with our mechanical shifting. The hostile responses to you have mostly been clean misses, many of them entirely beside the point. (Driverless cars … yeah, that’s what this is about.) Being happy to stay with a simple, easy-to-fix mechanical system doesn’t make anybody a Luddite. There are batteries on plenty of bikes with mechanical shifting, though, to run lights, computers, etc.

    1. Are battery-operated systems hard to fix? Do they break down often? It seems to me that that battery operated shifting is to mechanical shifting what hydraulic braking is to mechanical shifting: batteries and hydro are more complex and harder to fix, but are less likely to need fixing in the first place. Mechanical systems are easier to fix but need to be fixed more often.

  6. Talk about over complicating a perfectly good system. OK, if you’re leading the Tour of ‘whatever’ it may be a slight advantage, but the modern systems from Shimano change as smoothly as silk. Also, I’m not sure about the whole 1×11/12 idea. The chain line is severe and in some SRAM cases, it’s noisy too. They say that there’s an answer to this, spend £1000 on the new 1×12. Laughable.

  7. It’s awesome that we have so many choices available in gearing today. 1x, 2x, 3x up front with plentiful 9, 10 and 11 speed and even IGH options out back operated with mech or electric–there is a perfect solution out there for virtually every rider’s needs/desires/budget. Keep the ideas coming. Whether I end up riding it or not, its always good to have options.

  8. Hang on i just need to charge my bike up before I come out. So that’s the gears, the hidden boost, the dropper post, my GPS, my camera… Yeah let’s meet up tomorrow. Buy a motorcycle if you want this much complication.

Leave a Reply