Bikes have long been a greener (and cheaper) alternative to cars, assuming you actually know how to ride one, but a talented Chinese engineer is taking that requirement out of the equation with a self-balancing electric bike that’s smart enough to get around a city all by itself.
In its current form the bike screams ‘research project’ with electric motors and flywheels mounted beneath its seat, electronics and a battery pack strapped to the top tube, and a servo-powered system used to turn the front wheel. It’s not pretty, but at the same time watching it in action is mesmerising because everything our brains know about bikes tells us that seeing one rolling down the street without a rider should be impossible. What’s more impressive is that the bike’s upgraded capabilities come from a single hardware engineer named Zhi Hui Jun who realised the project in their spare time.
The self-balancing action is achieved through a perpendicularly-mounted heavy metal wheel that can quickly change the direction of its spin to create angular momentum to counters the bike’s tendency to immediately succumb to the forces of gravity and fall over. It’s controlled by accelerometer and gyroscope sensors that can detect the subtlest movements of the bike, and as a result, when self-balancing, the bike appears to be rock solid as the constant tiny adjustments being made are nearly imperceptible.
The mechanism should work whether or not there’s a rider on the seat, but while it can keep the bike itself upright even at a complete stand-still, with someone on board, which adds a lot of top-heavy weight, it may require some added forward momentum to help pull of its balancing tricks. It could very well mean that one day the rite of passage of learning to ride a bike as a kid could be no more, which would also make biking more accessible to riders of any skill level.
There’s another interesting application to this creation, which may already be apparent to anyone who lives in a big city and regularly has to dodge bicycle couriers who deftly weave in and out of congested traffic to quickly deliver packages. As part of the upgrade, Zhi Hui Jun also added an RGB depth-sensing camera and a LIDAR sensor allowing it to not only ride by itself but also intelligently avoid obstacles and navigate traffic. The bike could easily replace the cars used by services like Uber Eats for smaller orders, and would potentially never be delayed by heavy traffic or closed roads. It could zip through pile-ups and even take advantage of shortcuts that cars never could to reduce delivery times — while also reducing emissions.