Co.Design

A Prius-Inspired Bike Has Mind-Controlled Gear Shifting

Hyperefficient design, an EEG-powered helmet — what's not to like?

What would a Prius look like if it were a bike instead of a car? That's what Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi LA, Deeplocal, and Parlee Cycles wanted to explore with their PXP project. The final design was just revealed on John Watson's cycling/design site, and it's a doozy: lean, mean, and mind-controlled. (Yes, you read that last part right.)

Futuristic bike designs tend to look not much unlike "normal" bikes, and the PXP is no different. "The Prius was not the first car, it was the car optimized. The PXP is an homage to that optimization," Saatchi & Saatchi LA's Executive Creative Director Chris Adams tells Co.Design. "This led us to a hybrid design that blends the characteristics of a super-aerodynamic time trial bike with the comfort and efficiency of road bike. Add in some innovative technology and you end up with the PXP."

"When you see the bike shift for the first time, it's kind of like magic."

First, that "innovative technology" part — the bike helmet, designed by Deeplocal, incorporates (wait for it) a built-in EEG array that lets you shift gears just by thinking about it. After a ten-minute "training" session that tells the system how to distinguish "shift up" from "shift down" (or "I want a sandwich"), the helmet will reliably send the appropriate signal to the PXP's electric derailleur. "When you see the bike shift for the first time, it's kind of like magic," Matthew Pegula, Deeplocal Lead Engineer, tells Co.Design. "It's also interesting because we were able to build all of this with off-the-shelf components and some custom software to glue everything together. That means that we're not too far off from this being commercially viable." (Don't worry, you can still shift gears on the PXP the old-fashioned way, too.)

The PXP bike itself has some pretty sweet details, like a built-in, aerodynamically-optimized dock for your smartphone to display information about speed, cadence, and heart rate. But most of the other design innovations are of the smart-not-flashy variety, like running all the brake cables inside the bike frame to reduce wind drag. There were so many subtle tweaks made to improve aerodynamics that the design team tested the PXP is a wind tunnel at MIT to validate them. The result, according to Chris Adams, is that you can cut through the air like Lance Armstrong while enjoying a comfortable, not-hunched-over-the-handlebars stance — no spandex required. "Theoretically the rider should be able to go farther for longer with less fatigue," Adams says.

So when will we be able to get our neuro-shifting, wind-slicing ride on and buy a PXP for our very own? Never, probably: "The bike is intended only as a design exploration and will not be for sale," Adams admits. "That said, we hope the learning from this concept exploration will expand the conversation around the future of bike design." Well, if it helps put brain-computer interfaces into my kid's Huffy 10 years from now, I suppose that'll have to do.

[Read more about the PXP on John Watson's blog]

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