the routes. “We can see how this pollution level is related to weather, or to
policies promoting bicycles,” she says.
The data could help city planners
identify urban heat islands, where an
abundance of asphalt and concrete artificially raise temperatures. It could
also pinpoint areas suffering from
noise pollution or a concentration of
exhaust fumes. By measuring the speed
of bicyclists and how often they stop,
the system could alert both traffic planners and cyclists to areas of traffic congestion. And measurements from the
smartphone’s accelerometer could call
attention to potholes or other potentially dangerous street conditions.
Copenhagen currently has three
fixed environmental sensors in the city,
one at street level and two about three
stories high. Because there will be more
of them and they will be at street level,
sensors on the bikes will provide a lot
more point data. It will only take about
100 cyclists equipped with the Wheel to
get good coverage of a two-kilometer-square downtown area, says Outram.
Cyclists tapping into the network can
also see historical data not only for their
own bike routes but for those used by
others. That may allow them to choose
a route that is quieter or less polluted.
It also lets them interact with their fellow cyclists if they choose to, meeting
en route for a break or to ride together.
“We’re trying to make some of the connections through Facebook or other
social networking sites—these virtual
connections—physical,” Outram says.
Los angeles’ Biketastic
While European metropolises like Copenhagen tend to have compact downtowns conducive to bike riding, sprawling Los Angeles is very much geared
toward cars. But biking is still popular
there, and the Biketastic project aims to
make it easier for Los Angelenos to find
safe and pleasant routes, both for commuting and recreational rides. University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
researchers designed an application for
Android phones and conducted a two-week pilot project last fall.
Riders launch the Biketastic application when they mount their bikes, and
the phone uses GPS data to trace the
route and measure the cyclist’s speed.
The app asks if the phone is in a bag
or out in the open, so it knows whether
about 450 cyclists
have registered for
the Biketastic Web
site and mapped out
almost 1,400 routes
in Los angeles.
it can use the phone’s microphone to
measure noise. If the cyclist mounts the
phone on the bicycle, the phone figures
out its orientation and uses the accelerometer to measure road roughness.
The rider can take pictures of interesting landmarks or dangers such as potholes. All the data is uploaded to a Web
site, which overlays the information on
Google Maps, adds information about
elevation, and allows cyclists to include
tags and descriptions.
Rather than design new devices,
Sashank Reddy, the Ph.D. student at
UCLA who headed the Biketastic project, wants to take advantage of sensors people already carry with them.
“Our purpose is to understand how we
can use the sensors, what are the algorithms to clean up the data, and what
are appropriate visualization techniques,” he says.
About 450 users have registered for
the Biketastic Web site and mapped
out almost 1,400 routes. While the app
is available to Android phone users, it
probably takes a minimum number of
people in a city to be useful, Reddy says,
and he’s not focused on expanding the
project, though he wouldn’t mind seeing someone else commercialize products or services based on his work. Cycling advocacy groups and city planners
have asked him about how they might
use his techniques, but nothing has
progressed beyond the pilot stage.
Ron Milam, a consultant for plan-
ners of environmentally friendly proj-
ects and a writer about biking in Los
Angeles on his BikeSage blog, partici-
pated in the pilot project and got a bet-
ter sense of the speed and distances he
was riding. He thinks Biketastic can be
particularly useful by providing people
with routes that others have discovered,
and thus make it easier for people to
shift from driving to cycling for some
of their trips. “Having this information
around could not only inspire people to
ride a bike but also give them some re-
ally concrete information on places they
may want to go,” Milam says. “The per-
ception is you can’t ride a bike or walk
in L.A., but the reality is more people are
choosing to do that here.”
Meanwhile, Outram’s team is work-
ing on making the Copenhagen Wheel
more compact, and hopes to commer-
cialize it within the year. They plan to
first sell it to cities, for use on fleets of bi-
cycles used by police or traffic enforce-
ment officers. In addition to Copenha-
gen, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Sydney,
and Wellington, New Zealand have ex-
pressed interest. Once the cities get the
system operating, individual cyclists
would be able to start buying in.
The Copenhagen wheel, http://www.
Too public or too private? The politics
of privacy in the real-time city, First
International Forum on the Application
and Management of Personal Electronic
Information, Cambridge, MA, October
Ratti, C., Pulselli, R.M., Williams, S.,
and Frenchman, D.
Mobile landscapes: using location data from
cell phones for urban analysis, Environment
and Planning B 33, 5, 2006.
Reddy, S., Shilton, K., Denisov, G., Cenizal, C.,
Estrin, D., and Srivastava, M.
Biketastic: sensing and mapping for better
biking, ACM Conference on human Factors
in Computing Systems, Atlanta, GA, April
neil Savage is science and technology writer based in