Unveiled Tuesday at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, the wheel is intended to encourage riders to go farther instead of relying on car or bus transportation.
The wheel has a battery that stores energy when the brakes are applied, then return it when you need it most -- say, a hill, or when trying to merge into fast-moving traffic. A sensor inside the hub measures "effort" used when pedaling forward to adjust when to release the stored energy.
"Over the past few years we have seen a kind of biking renaissance, which started in Copenhagen and has spread from Paris to Barcelona to Montreal," said Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Laboratory, in a statement. "It's sort of like 'Biking 2.0'--whereby cheap electronics allow us to augment bikes and convert them into a more flexible, on-demand system."
The wheel is also equipped with Bluetooth technology, which means it can exchange data with a smartphone or other mobile device. Using a special iPhone application, for example, the rider can monitor his or her speed, direction, distance traveled, traffic conditions, weather conditions and other riders.
Since the wheel incorporates all the electronic circuitry inside the hub, nothing needs to be retrofit to the bike for it to work. Better still, a special spoke layout allows you install the hub on any rim.
The wheel will arrive to market within a year and will be sold by online retailers, consumer electronics vendors, and possibly bike stores, the team says. It's expected to cost between $500 and $1,000.
"The Copenhagen Wheel is part of a more general trend: that of inserting intelligence in our everyday objects and of creating a smart support infrastructure around ourselves for everyday life," associate project director Assaf Biderman said in a statement.
Here's a video of MIT's smart wheel: