Brainy Bikes

 How would you like a bike that can shift gears without you having to move a muscle? (Well aside from your legs that is.) A new concept bike from Parlee Cycles and Toyota is doing just that by reading specific brain waves emitted from the rider to determine when to shift gears. A specific brain pattern will correspond to shifting the gear up while another is attuned to shifting the gear down

While this technology is not new, the way in which it works and the infrastructure underneath this network is something unheard of. During my time at Ohio State, I was fortunate enough to interview an alumnus who had created a way to connect people to Twitter via electrodes and a virtual keyboard. Targeting patients with “locked-in” syndrome or ALS, he created a brain-computer interface that would read the patient’s brain waves to determine what letter the patient wanted next. Basically, the virtual keyboard would flash letters on the screen, the patient would then concentrate on the desired letter and the interface would read and translate the brain waves into action thereby writing a Tweet.

However, this interface required a lot of equipment. The virtual keyboard, a computer to run Twitter, the swim cap (like the neurohelmet) complete with electrodes as well as the patient himself. But what is different about the bike technology is that it doesn’t need all the equipment of other brain-computer technologies. A handy smart phone (complete with heart, brain and pace reading applications), the neurohelmet complete with electrodes as well as other intricate brain reading magic and presto! a mobile brain-phone interface.

This could dramatically change the way that we move, exercise and go about our daily lives. But could it also come with consequences of Sky-Net proportions? Or is the benefit of this technology like the brain-computer interface developed at Ohio State too good to pass up? Especially for those who really need this type of technology in order to communicate with the world around them?

Another story I wrote at Ohio State concerned a little girl whose hands were not fully formed. Unable to ride a “big kid” bike (a bike that could shift gears) she could not ride with her friends or sister. But after some engineering magic, she could ride a big kid bike thanks to new handlebars, brakes and gears specifically designed for her.

This new bike-phone interface technology would have allowed the little girl to bypass the engineers and ride a “big kid” bike with no problem thanks to the neurohelmet. But what about the engineers who would have missed out on the chance to help this little girl and learn about their craft at the same time?

Also, this type of technology (especially the neurohelmet) comes at a hefty price as I would imagine and not many people can afford this. So where does that leave those who actually need this technology? What can be done for them?

Let me know your thoughts. Are we in for a terminator style future? Or does this technology represent a new wave of benefits that could assist people with ALS or other syndromes and maladies who could greatly use this technology? And how can we make it better, cheaper and more accessible for the people who really need it?


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