Powering uphill on your bicycle often comes down to mind over matter. What if, in addition to controlling your protesting thigh muscles, your mind was master of your bike's gear shifter?
That idea is being made flesh in the form of a high-performance concept bicycle that sports a thought-controlled interface.
Electrodes in the rider's helmet pick up neuro-electrical activity. Signals from the helmet are transmitted to an electronic gear shifter mounted under the seat. With training, a person can learn to shift up or shift down simply by thinking it.
Gives "Look Ma, no hands!" new meaning.
The Prius X Parlee (PXP) concept bicycle is being built by Beverly, Mass.-based Parlee Cycles as part of Toyota's Prius Projects campaign, a series of design and technology projects aimed at extending the Prius brand beyond hybrid cars.
The thought-controlled interface is being developed by DeepLocal, the technology design firm and CMU spinoff responsible for the Nike ChalkBot. Cycling writer John Watson offers an inside view of the PXP project on his Prolly is not Probably blog.
Brain-computer interfaces have been popping up in laboratories around the world in recent years. They've been used to let quadriplegics control computers, monkeys control robotic arms, and amputees control high-tech prosthetic limbs.
Telepathy it ain't, though. The technology is fairly coarse grained, usually only allowing people to distinguish among up, down, left, right, front and back. But it does seem like a good fit for a bicycle shifter, given that you only need to think "up" and "down".
I'd love to see how this works in the real world. I don't know about you, but my thinking gets pretty fuzzy toward the end of a long ride. And how long before the technology finds its way into big-time bicycle racing? I can just see the headlines: 2018 Tour de France marred by brain doping scandal.
There are no plans to make the thought-controlled bicycle commercially available, according to Heather Estes, DeepLocal's director of marketing. The company used off-the-shelf components, however, so a commercially viable mind-shifted bicycle is not too far off, she said.