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Apple 'smart bike' patent hints at peloton intelligence

Apple 'smart bike' patent hints at peloton intelligence

Posting in Technology

Tech giant Apple has filed a patent for a "smart bike" that connects riders on a team and gathers data on everything from pace to heart rate to fatigue.

The world's major automakers are hard at work trying to wire their cars and trucks to the Internet in an attempt to turn your wheels into a rolling sensor from which data can be gathered.

Now tech giant Apple is moving beyond its running-centric partnership with sports equipment maker Nike ("Nike + iPod") to bring data to cyclists, too.

An Aug. 5, 2010 patent filed by the Cupertino, Calif.-based company reveals a system that monitors a dizzying array of components to your daily ride, including speed, distance, time, altitude, elevation, incline, decline, heart rate, power, derailleur setting, cadence, wind speed, path completed, expected future path, heart rate, power, and pace.

The system is intended for individuals -- just like Nike + iPod is for individual runners -- but the real magic lies in its ability to work with teams of cyclists, allowing them to communicate with each other in transit.

The key to this is leveraging one or more of the many sensors built into Apple's latest Internet-connected iPhone -- accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, ambient light sensor, and so forth -- as well as sensors that could be built into the bicycle.

A voice-activated screen attached to the bike -- or maybe just the iPhone or iPod itself -- could offer select visualized metrics on a rider's travels. It could also offer maps and course guidance, including the location of fellow riders, as well as a stolen-bike service that involves contacting a remote server for alerts from sensors on the bike:

Upon realizing that a bicycle was stolen, a user can access the remote server and receive the alerts generated by the one or more sensors. Using the sensor data provided in the alert, the user can track and recover a stolen bicycle. If the bicycle was in fact not stolen, but used with the owner's permission by a cyclist who did not own an appropriate electronic device, or if the owner himself rode the bicycle without an authorized electronic device, the owner can ignore the alerts provided to the remote server. In some embodiments, the owner can provide an indication to the remote server, for example by providing an input to the one or more sensors or by directly communicating with the server to ignore alerts received from the one or more sensors within given parameters (e.g., alerts received before a given date and time when the bicycle is to be returned, or alerts received from a region outside of a set home or authorized region). If the one or more sensors detect an authorized electronic device after having generated an alert, the sensors can generate and transmit a subsequent message canceling the previous alert.

The system can even leverage the iPhone's built-in cameras and microphones (emphasis mine):

In some embodiments, the electronic device can include video conferencing capabilities. The electronic device, display, or another component on the bicycle can include a camera or lens for capturing real-time images of the user's face as he rides, and for transmitting the real-time images, accompanied with audio (e.g., if available), to other electronic devices. The other electronic devices can then display the received real-time images and play back the associated audio to provide both visual and audio communications. This approach can allow a cyclist to measure how other cyclists are riding from their appearance (e.g., how tired another cyclist's face looks) and sounds (e.g., the ease or difficulty of another cyclist's breathing). Video conferencing, or other communications that include both audio and video can be initialized or received using any of the approaches described above, for example in connection with visual communications.

Amazing ideas on the table here, all using existing technology. Can Apple (and its future biking partner) execute?

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure