On the misery scale, commuting by car to and from work can rank right up there with root canals and cable bills — only with a lot more cussing. Picture Los Angeles at rush hour and feel the road rage. Mitigating that daily grind is among the challenges undertaken by MIT's SenseAble City Laboratory, where omni-disciplinary teams of brainiacs mastermind ways to create smarter urban environments. "Forty percent of our projects were around transportation," said Assaf Biderman, a former associate director at the lab whose expertise lies in physics and design.
In 2009 he and two colleagues invented an ingenious contraption called the Copenhagen Wheel, which essentially morphs an ordinary bicycle into a semi-autonomous robotic bike — and a hybrid alternative to the car. Centered around a conventional tire, rim and spokes, the wheel comprises a Frisbee-size bright red hub that houses a 350-watt motor, a 48-volt rechargeable lithium-ion battery, multiple sensors, Bluetooth wireless connectivity and an embedded control system activated by a smartphone mounted to the handlebars.