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App Inventor Makes a Surprise Appearance at CES 2018

This is a guest blog by MIT Master Trainer Rich Interdonato

Each year I attend CES to see what the latest consumer electronics look like so I can share the observations with my students at the University of Utah. This year, I was focused on seeing the newest wearable health technologies, and was not disappointed. What is more, I got a pleasant surprise at the Kickmaker booth (#51874) in the form of a custom made eBike that was controlled by an App Inventor app!

Silvio Garnier-Gaume from Paris, France was demonstrating a single speed, belt-drive eBike that includes a 1hp electric motor in the bottom bracket, and a battery that is hidden in the downtube of the frame that he welded himself. What is more, the device automatically senses when riders apply force to the pedals, and when this happens, the motor is activated to provide power assist. This is particularly helpful in a single speed design because it can be very difficult to start the eBike moving, and once it gets going fast, it can be difficult to keep up with the pedals.

This is where App Inventor comes in. Silvio said that he knows about hardware and electronics and bicycles and welding, but he "is not a programmer". Well, I absolutely disagree! He was able to connect his invention to App Inventor using Bluetooth, and through the app that he built, he can tune the motor's parameters (maximum speed and torque), as well as detect the riders cadence and applied force. He also uses App Inventor to communicate with the eBike's hidden battery to determine the available power.

Silvio and I talked about his future plans for the eBike and he said that he wants to enhance his app so that a rider can enter a route on a map and this will inform the way the power assist is delivered. For example, if the app knows that the bike will need to ascend 3 hills, but only has power for two, it can limit the way it helps the rider, or it can automatically engage its regenerative braking on the downhill in an optimized way. We discussed the opportunity for him to use App Inventor's latest Mapping component for this task and how it is very useful for the eBike to know the path that it will be following so that it's performance can be tailored to the ride.

Hardware like Silvio's eBike is very exciting to me because it showcases inventiveness and provides an elegant example of an enhancement that improves the performance and experience of bike riding. By adding modern electronic technology, an otherwise "low tech" device is transformed into a "high tech" vehicle for modern mobility. What is especially exciting is that the connection between the two is an App Inventor app! Well done, Silvio!