A ‘feeling’ cycle makes its way across the USA to raise money for the Livestrong Foundation
Has someone built a better Chalkbot?
The cycling world is again the scene of an ‘internet of things’ project, with Precious, a sensor-laden, tweet-emitting bike heading across America to raise money for the Livestrong Foundation.
The Specialized machine is covered with sensors to record cadence, speed, temperature, direction and more, aggregated on the project’s homepage. Its rider, Janeen McCrae, who came up with the idea, is keeping her own record of the journey as well.
The two are set to spend the next three months together on the charity ride as part of Team Fatty, with the data collected interpreted by software and paired with appropriate responses from the bike.
‘To gather all of the data from the bike, we developed a device to capture temperature, humidity, grade, speed, cadence (pedal rotation), direction and GPS. The device takes several readings from each sensor, then sends the average values via text message using a cellular module. We utilized the Twitter API to receive and parse the text messages, which are then analyzed by our servers. In order to preserve battery life (we get 35+ hours on a single charge), the device wakes itself up every 5 minutes to check readings and submit data. The rider can also hit a button on the handlebars to trigger the device to report the data for that exact moment.
Once all the information reaches our servers, the “brain” really kicks in. Our servers analyze the data: how many messages have been sent so far today, the time of day, etc. This helps to ensure that every message is appropriate, both in context and timing. The servers look for patterns 24 hours a day, and if they find anything interesting, e.g. it’s been 80ºF with non-stop hills for two days, it will push a message expressing the bike’s feelings on the matter.’
To hear the Breakfast guys tell it, it was a snap to put together. ‘First, we did in-workshop development; the core was generating the code that drove the brain, so to speak, and the actual physical development, getting all the sensors to send the stuff. And then you start looking at stuff like battery life’, says Michael Lipton, one of three founding partners at six-month-old Breakfast. Lipton is a former software engineer at IBM and Goldman Sachs. You may remember his two other co-founders, Andrew Zolty and Mattias Gunnerås, who helped develop BakerTweet at Poke, London.
‘There are a bunch of different parameters, and you fill [Precious] with a bunch of different messages, and based on those parameters. We filled it with hundreds of different messages that will be based on the things that are happening. We’re not just looking at these data as discreet points, but as patterns. We want the bike to have a personal reaction to what is happening.’
‘You’ll never see the same message from Precious; once it’s published it isn’t repeated. ‘We’ll monitor to see that the queue doesn’t get too short, and we’ll refresh it if so’, Lipton says.’As soon as you start repeating, you’re taking away people’s incentive to go and watch’.