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Tech And Art Bring Bling To Night-Time Bike Rides

posted 8 Oct 2013, 13:15 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Oct 2013, 13:16 ]

California company Monkeylectric wants to electrify your next bike ride with technology that combines art and science to turn bicycle wheels into spinning works of art.

The company uses a programmable LED display to exploit the human brain's perception of what it sees, and is turning heads in the process.

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIAUNITED STATES  (MONKEYLECTRIC) -  California company Monkeylectric is building bicycle wheels that stand out in the crowd.

Company founder, Dan Goldwater, has designed an LED technology called Monkey Lights that fits into the spokes of bicycle wheels to display animations guaranteed to turn heads.

Goldwater is a self-described tinkerer. An engineer by trade, he built the first set of wheel display lights in his garage while working for INTEL. He says people began stopping him on the streets when he took his bike on test rides.

"I remember a specific occasion in Oakland, where I was just biking along and to the right of me was a lime green 1970's Cadillac with enormous wheels, a spotless paint job and tinted windows. And we both got to the light at about the same time and this guy rolls down his window, and smoke is pouring out and he says 'nice ride man'. That actually happened to me," he said.

That is when Goldwater decided to leave behind his day job and focus on turning his LED displays into a business.

Goldwater says that the idea of lighting up bicycle wheels has been around for more than 30 years, but major advances in computers and LED technology have allowed him and his small team to take these types of displays to a new level.

The lights are controlled by a small on-board computer that can be programmed to display different patterns. The company offers two models. The basic version has pre-programmed animations while the professional version allows users to design their own creations.

Monkeylectric engineer Phillip Yip says the system depends on visual perception and wheel speed.

"We have four different magnet sensors on here so that it can tell its orientation and speed. So what I am going to do is just wind the pedals and get it started. So what you will see is that some of the LED's will start to flash as it detects the magnet and when it gets up to a certain speed, about 8 to 10 miles per hour, it will show ananimation," Yip explained.

Goldwater agrees that, unlike conventional animations, these displays need to factor the rate at which the wheel is spinning. He says timing is everything.

"The wheel needs to be moving at a certain minimum speed to be able to see the effect. When someone is stopped, the LED's are still very bright but they aren't moving enough to make a pattern. The pattern itself is actually caused by what is called the persistence of vision effect of your eye," said Goldwater.

'Persistence of vision' creates the illusion of one seamless image from a series of closely timed LED bursts. Goldwater says, that in his case, it's attracting a great deal of attention. He says the company is growing and demand for his monkey lights is increasing with orders coming in from around the world.

And in addition to the visual appeal, Goldwater says the lights play an important role in road safety - two good reasons he says, for bike riders to see the light.