ABB is putting the bees back into its name with a new project that was born from one employee’s passion which led him to explore the intersection of beekeeping and technology.
At first glance, beekeeping and technology couldn’t be further apart. Beekeeping involves creating an environment for a colony of living organisms to live and thrive in, tending to their needs at home while allowing sufficient freedom to roam and explore. Technology is the lifeblood of ABB, and after an employee at the company’s Krakow, Poland offices setup a hobbyist beekeeping installation on the roof, they started thinking about how it might be a fantastic opportunity.
“We always try to have in this big corporate body which is ABB, also this kind of small company soul. One day we thought, why not establish this here on our roof? But not only to have the honey out of this, but to try to utilize this big population for our scientific purposes,” explains Marek Florkowski, Head of ABB Corporate Research Center Kraków.
The 50,000 to 60,000 bees that call the apiary home created quite a buzz among employees at ABB’s Corporate Research Center, and not long after, the team started working on a new installation. Sensors, cameras, and computers were added and the data started flowing. “We started with some simple sensors for humidity, temperature, air conditions, CO2, then we also added some cameras –fast cameras, infrared cameras, hyperspectral cameras,” Florkowski said.
I mean, you had me at hyperspectral, but what the heck, let’s go one layer deeper into what might be a very sticky situation. To test complex computational algorithms designed to crunch through massive amounts of data, you need large amounts of data, and the beehive with its thousands of bees made for a great testbed.
“In science very often, the problem is – like in material science – to have good specimen. Also for big data and algorithms. We need to have a set of data which can represent certain process – and here with the bees you have thermal processes, you have ultrafast behavior, you have slow behavior, you have movement recognition, pattern recognition. So the feedback we have from colleagues is that it is an extremely useful experiment,” explains Florkowski.
The tracking exercise may seem like a novelty with no real practical application, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth at ABB. “The hives actually allow us to play with and test all aspects of data analysis – sensors, data acquisition, data analysis and data visualization,” says Michal Orkisz, Senior Principle Scientist at the research center. “Take an application like bee identification, bee detection and bee tracking. That could directly translate into tracking objects on the factory floor or tracking shipping containers.”
Bees flying in and out of the factory could be workers moving in and out of a factory or pallets of goods moving around a production line. Developing strategies and solution to count the bees as they surge in and out of the apiary gives ABB an extremely complex, extremely detailed solution that can then be scaled up to the appropriate size for a specific application.
“I feel proud in many aspects,” says Florkowki. “If you want to be a pioneering company, you have to try something unconventional. This is really the point.” The hive has turned out to be much more than just a side project for evenings and weekends, but has allowed ABB to let its team explore and play with technology in a way that’s both exciting and relevant. What a sweet combination.
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At CES this year, Bosch showcased a new energy analysis tool called the Phantom. It is a small device not much larger than a Raspberry Pi, but it packs an oversized toolkit that Bosch believes can help owners identify opportunities to save money on their electric bills.
The real magic of the Phantom is its ability to look at the energy being used by a home. Phantom’s algorithm analyzes the energy consumption over time and creates a profile. It is then able to parse out specific power signatures, resulting in what is the equivalent of an x-ray of the home electricity consumption. The technology was developed with residential and small businesses in mind, but the potential to scale it up is perhaps even more exciting.
Today, it can be leveraged to monitor and manage assets in, for instance, a manufacturing plant to report on their usage. Bosch believes that the artificial intelligence built by Robert Bosch Engineering and Business solutions Pvt. Ltd that underpins the solution has the potential to deliver meaningful, valuable insights across almost every sector of business.
Vijay Ratnaparkhe, president and managing director of RBEI, said, “Phantom, with its unique algorithm, will help multiple industries with AI-powered actionable insights to jumpstart their digital transformation journey. The AI algorithm is made robust using data from manufacturing, retail and energy solutions.”
Installation of the Phantom is not intrusive and quickly enables visibility into the energy network it is connected to. After connecting to the energy network, the Phantom performs a number of value-add functions for the property owner:
Automatically collects, calculates and reports the costs of energy consumed — department-wise, process-wise, shift-wise or equipment-wise
Determines the true impact of energy prices on all production lines
Automatic alerts to take corrective action during adverse trends
Removes electricity budgeting guesswork
Helps to minimize administrative costs and reduces data entry errors
Identifies devices that need servicing
Identifies generator run hours and fuel consumption
In short, the Bosch Phantom adds insights that typically only come from much more complex PLC-backed controls equipment and does so without all the fuss. Instead of high capital costs, complex programming, and masses of wiring, the Phantom brings a robust set of intelligent monitoring solutions packed into a single, easy to install bolt-on device. That’s an impressive value proposition for homeowners, businesses owners, manufacturing plants, and commercial operations alike.
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In its quest to start a people-powered electric bike Rayvolution, Barcelona-based Rayvolt has been churning out a line of unique ebikes that blend the classic motorcycle styling of yesteryear with the high tech electric powertrains of tomorrow for customers, today.
CleanTechnica went to Barcelona* to visit Rayvolt after the launch of its 2019 lineup and we took the Cruzer out for a stroll around town and down to Barcelona’s beach boardwalk for the afternoon. The Cruzer’s relaxed posture made for a nice ride for riders of a variety of heights as we rode through town from Rayvolt’s headquarters towards the beach strip. The longer frame of the bike and its thick 3” rubber tires pair for a nice stable ride and helped us make quick work of the city’s bike lanes. Disclaimer: Rayvolt paid for the author’s flight to Barcelona for the purposes of this article series.
The company’s flagship ebike is the Cruzer V3 and it is an absolute workhorse of an ebike. It is available with one of two of Rayvolt’s custom-designed motors: the Smart Hub or the Power Hub for an extra 200 euros. The Cruzer looks and rides like a classic early 1900s motorcycle, with the seat low and pushed to the back and the pedals biased towards the front of the frame. Complementing the retro look are a pair of leather saddlebags, with one containing the battery for the bike and the other providing a small storage compartment.
Once on the boardwalk, the longer posture and heavier frame made it harder to weave through the dense pedestrian traffic on the boardwalk, but the leather covered spring suspension saddle made the ride comfortable enough as we walked our way through some of the denser areas.
We stopped along the boardwalk for a few photo shoots and found that our passion for the classic curves of the bike were shared by the locals and tourists alike as numerous people stopped to take photos of the Cruzer in all its glory. Our build was a classic matte grey frame with natural leather, which also seemed to be popular with the locals as well, judging from their double takes and gawking.
Cutting Edge Power
On the power electronics side of things, the Rayvolt Power Hub motor that our bike was equipped with provided a silent boost to our pedaling as we motored down the boardwalk. And when I say silent, I mean silent, like zero noise. For those who have driven an electric vehicle or ridden on an ebike, you may be familiar with the slight whine of the electric motor. I’ve personally grown to love it, and was expecting the same slight whine that most ebikes emit, but I was actually pleasantly surprised when I first took off on the Rayvolt Cruzer with its Rayvolt-designed Power Hub motor. It silently ramped me up to speed and had me flying down the path in no time.
If the transition from a motorcycle to an electric bike takes the noise from a 10 to a 1, upgrading to Rayvolt’s Hub motor takes that down to zero. It’s akin to flying on the wind and unlike anything I’ve experienced. Mat let us take Rayvolt’s very early prototype electric motorcycle (that’s another story for another time) for a ride up and down the alley outside of the headquarters and while it clearly packed an insane amount of torque and power, its powerful motor was all but silent. The same held true for the Cruzer as it silently assisted my pedaling or responded to the throttle.
The Cruzer is a feat of design, first and foremost, but it isn’t just made for the runway. Our Cruzer came equipped with a pair of fenders, but an optional rack increases the utility of the bike beyond just cruising down the boardwalk in style. Adding a rack to the bike makes it easy to slap a pair of panniers to the bike or even to add a second seat to the rack. Rayvolt has a number of tricks up its sleeve to maximize the utility of the Cruzer and the other bikes in its lineup that let owners build out the perfect bike to suit their lifestyle.
If you haven’t ridden an ebike or cargo bike before, it may be best to just order the bike first and ride it around for a bit to see what you find yourself using it for. After that, you can always look back at what accessories are available and start to dream about how they might complement the things you’ve already found yourself doing with it. For me, I regularly commute on my ebikes and take them to the farmers market, so adding a rack and a pair of panniers seems like a logical build on a functional electric bike platform.
A series of high quality accessories are available for the Rayvolt Cruzer. Image credit: Kyle Field | CleanTechnica
The ability to customize the bike lets each owner build out their own platform of functionality from which they can rely on it more and more. In Europe, bicycling around town is much more normal, but using bikes as a primary or even secondary mode of transportation in the United States just hasn’t taken off in the same way in large part due to the fact that our cities have been designed and built up around cars, not humans and bikes. Ebikes give us one more reason to stand up and mandate that our cities be redesigned for humans first and cars…last. Bicycling around town reconnects us with our cities, our communities, while improving our own personal health along the way. It’s a beautiful win-win.
We worked with Mat and the team on a special win-win deal for CleanTechnica and our readers. If you buy a bike using our link and our affiliate code KEEPSAFECT, Rayvolt will give you a free classic helmet with purchase of one of their ebikes. On our end, Rayvolt kicks down a few bucks to CleanTechnica through their affiliate program to help us keep the lights on. To get the deal, you do need to use our referral link to complete your purchase, then drop the coupon code ‘keepsafect’ in when you’re ready to checkout. The best part is that doing this costs you absolutely nothing extra and supports CleanTechnica at the same time.
Electric bikes have ushered in a new generation of personal electric mobility solutions and that holds more true with cargo bikes than in perhaps any other segment. Rad Power Bikes’ believes it can bring the utility of electrified cargo bikes to the masses with its affordable, durable $1,499 RadWagon.
The RadWagon equipped with cargo bags. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
After our review of the RadRover and the RadMini Step Thru, Rad Power Bikes sent us the RadWagon all kitted out with kid and gear hauling accessories for us to run through the paces. I was admittedly nervous about the prospect of putting my 8- and 9-year-old boys on the back of the bike and trekking around town and was pleasantly surprised at how functional the pairing was. The boys really enjoy riding on the back of the bike whether it be the 10-mile trip home from school or a quick run to the store.
Disclaimer: Rad Power Bikes provided the RadWagon and accessories for free for the purposes of this review.
Instead of having to force them onto the bike like I was fearing, they are chomping at the bit to find excuses to ride on it with me. I do feel the need to pause here and mention that the irony that the heavy lifting of the pedaling is left to dad while my two boys, who are absolutely bubbling over with energy most of the time, sit comfortably in the rear without a way to put that energy into moving the bike forward.
Riding the RadWagon
Thankfully, that’s where the ebike functionality comes in. I’m in decent shape, but I can’t imagine hauling my two boys around the hills in our area without some help from an electric motor. Rad Power Bikes offers up that help on the RadWagon in the form of a Shenghi gearless direct drive 750-watt continuous output motor (on the US version). 750 watts is the maximum output of a motor legally allowed in the US on Class 2 ebikes and it is a welcome boost to the output from my built-in motors (aka legs).
The RadWagon in motion. Image credit: Rad Power Bikes
The bike can be operated in one of three modes, depending on rider preference. Rad Power Bikes builds throttles into all of its bikes and the throttle is the most helpful on heavier bikes like the RadWagon. It is especially helpful when getting started, as a fully loaded RadWagon with two kids on the back can get heavy. The throttle can also be used to propel the bike without any pedal input.
Most of our trips on the RadWagon are taken in pedal assist mode. In this mode, one of five levels of pedal assist can be selected from level 1 providing a small amount of support to level 5, where it feels like a professional cyclist has jumped on board to help pedal the bike. The bike uses its 12-magnet sensor in the crankshaft to determine when pedaling is occurring and seamlessly activates the motor. The exact amount of power being put out by the motor is also displayed on the integrated LCD in watts.
Finally, for shorter trips without a load, or to train, the bike can be ridden without any input from the motor by setting the pedal assist level to zero. There is some resistance from the motor in this mode, so it is not something riders will likely take advantage of, but it is nice to know that the bike can be ridden even if the battery dies.
On the manual side of things, the RadWagon is equipped with a 7-speed 11-34 freewheel powered by a Shimano derailleur and shifter. In several hundred kilometers of testing, I found the combination of the manual gears and the 5 pedal assist levels to provide the perfect balance of options to support a wide variety of loads and terrains. When riding up the 300′ hill to my kids’ school, I was able to drop the gears down to a lower gear and lean into the pedal assist for more support. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the bike performed and didn’t have to work nearly as hard as I was fearing I might have to.
The RadWagon with a single Thule Yepp Maxi. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
When heading back down the hill with two kids on the back, I was able to shift to a high gear and let the motor regenerate some power. That’s right, the motor on the RadWagon can actually regenerate battery power. It’s not nearly as useful as in an electric vehicle, but it is a nice premium feature that many eBikes don’t have.
The RadWagon is a mid-step frame powered with a 750 watt hub motor built into the rear wheel. It comes from the factory with a 350 pound | 159 kilogram payload capacity and a 120 pound | 54 kilogram capacity on the rear rack. To ensure a stable ride, the RadWagon features a deflopilator which, in addition to being just plain fun to say, helps stabilize the front wheel at high speeds when carrying loads.
Accessories For Days
What makes the RadWagon so exciting is its flexibility. From the factory, the RadWagon comes with a rear rack, plastic rear wheel shield, and side decks, but that is just the beginning. The team at Rad Power Bikes has built up a full complement of equally durable, utilitarian accessories that let each rider customize their ride for the specific application they want to use it for.
Adding a flat platform up front and in the rear allows for the addition of one of a host of small or large delivery bags that can be used to haul temperature or weather sensitive gear around. Families with younger kids can add Rad Power Bikes’ Caboose to the back of the bike along with one or two rear deck pads for a surprisingly comfortable way to get around town. I was expecting to have to encourage or trick my kids into riding on the back of the bike, but was pleasantly surprised to find that both my 8- and 9-year-old sons absolutely love riding on the back of the RadWagon.
The RadWagon with the caboose and passenger. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
Families with smaller kids can even add one or two Thule Yepp Maxi carseats onto the deck that really lives up to the wagon in its name. Just because it does a great job of hauling mini-humans around town doesn’t meant that it is a one trick pony. Riders looking to pick up groceries or run errands around town will find that Rad Power Bikes’ ballard cargo bags are voluminous to the point of absurdity, but truth be told, their functionality helped me to weave my errands together without having to worry about the onboard storage capacity.
Last week, I went out to pick up a new electric tea kettle, hopped over to donate blood, then back across town to finish up some work at a local cafe. The RadWagon’s capability allows for the same casual storage of a moderate kit of tools and inclement weather gear that a car does, enabling owners to explore their cities from a new perspective without compromise.
Skip The Gym
Perhaps the biggest benefit I have noticed with the RadWagon is that it is so capable that I’m actually able to use it for the vast majority of my normal daily trips. My wife wanted to meet me at my parent’s house to pick up our two boys so instead of jumping in the car, I hopped on the bike. Easy peasy and a workout to boot.
The same goes for other meetings or errands, which allows me to use the time I’m already spending to get from place to place to get a workout rather than having to carve out time specifically to go do it. Heck, the savings from not paying for a gym membership could easily be funneled into an ebike fund or monthly payment. It is a beautiful thing turning what is essentially inactive time sitting in a drivers seat into workout time pedaling across town on a bike.
For More Information
Prices aren’t normally things that people boast about, but the RadWagon really is one of those diamonds in the rough. It was a great price at $1,599 but Rad Power Bikes wasn’t satisfied. They pushed and pushed on their prices and were able to slash that down even further to $1,499. That puts it at the same price as their other ebikes, but with so much more functionality packed in.
Head over to the RadWagon site to learn more about it, to drool a little, or to make a purchase. Their bikes arrive needing some assembly, but your local bike shop can help out there, if needed. If you’re comfortable taking on the task of clamping on the front wheel, bolting on a few things here and there with the included toolset, you will likely be up and running in an hour or two. I’ve assembled furniture that took longer, but your mileage may vary.
Rad Power Bikes makes a lineup of funky looking, yet surprisingly capable electric bikes. After spending a few weeks ripping around town on its RadMini Step-Thru, we wanted to look behind the curtain to see where the company came from and what makes it tick, so I sat down with Rad Power Bikes co-founder and CMO Ty Collins for a chat.
The Early Days
Right off the bat, Ty opened up about what he first learned about ebikes from co-founder, CEO, and president Mike Radenbaugh as Mike started electrifying traditional bikes with custom-built retrofit kits back in 2007. The technology was exciting, he loved the results and his customers were thrilled, but, “it was a lot more time consuming, it wasn’t very repeatable and it wasn’t scalable,” Ty said.
An early ebike retrofit circa 2007. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
Mike retrofitting bikes for customers one at a time was fun and showed promise, but the path forward was not clear at the time. A few years later, the underpinning technology had progressed significantly and in 2014, Mike and Ty, who had been friends since preschool, found that they were both eager and ready to explore the possibilities of ebikes full time with Mike spearheading design and Ty leading marketing. Ty recalled Mike saying that, “If we’re ever going to do this for real, now is the time,” and they started working out the details to allow them to truly spin up the company they had been dreaming about for years. They combined forces and ultimately relaunched as Rad Power Bikes in 2015 with a direct to consumer sales model.
An eBike Company
Taking a look at the company’s lineup of ebikes, you will quickly notice they do not look like traditional bicycles. From the start, Rad Power Bikes had it sights set on being an ebike company and came to grips very early on with the realization that ebikes should be their own creation. They should be more than a traditional bike design with a battery and motor bolted on. By doing this, and putting ebikes as the sole focus of the company, they would be able to build bikes truly optimized for their destiny as electrified, battery powered workhorses.
The RadMini Step-Thru folded. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
On this foundational belief, the team has built a lineup of vehicles that deliver unique value to Rad Power Bikes owners. The RadMini Step-Thru we tested weighs in at 68 pounds and surprisingly folds up for more compact stowage. The unique folding capability, uncommon on such a large bike, allowed us to fold it up and put it in the trunk of a car on more than one occasion. The robust frame of the bike allowed me to trip around town on it without worrying if it was capable of hauling my 205lb | 93kg frame along with all my gear.
Looking across the Rad Power Bikes lineup, the same core functionality can be found on all of its vehicles. The RadWagon is built with hauling capacity at the top of the list, and as such, it is not hard to imagine using it to replace a vehicle. Doing so may seem like a distant, obtainable future, but after spending time on the website and looking around at the variety of customer images featuring the wagon loaded with kids, groceries, and even lumber, it becomes a few steps closer to reality.
The Rad Wagon as a family hauler. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
When shaping up the bones of the brand, Ty said that, “we knew it couldn’t be just another bike…We wanted to do something that was very unique and eye catching.” Its bikes are “designed with function in mind,” with the functionality of the bike defining the overarching reason for a bike to come into existence.
“We truly are an ebike company,” Ty said. That’s clear from the start and it is an exciting example of how the electrification of vehicles of all shapes and sizes is enabling people all around the world to live healthier, lower impact lives, while getting to know their communities even better at the same time.
Direct Consumer Relationships
From the early days of Mike working with customers one at a time to design and build a system for their specific needs, he was focused on building solutions for his customers. That’s easier to do in person, where you can see and interact with your customers directly, but Mike wanted to scale this same customer-centric model as they moved from local sales to an e-commerce model with most sales coming in over the internet.
The 2019 Rad Power Bikes lineup. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
Rad Power Bikes’ strong focus on the customer has resulted in a core group of extremely passionate customers. “We’re really lucky where we feel that we are really selling to the super consumer,” Ty said. This passionate core group of customers not only continues to buy the company’s products, but they also bring more people to the Rad Power Bikes brand. “We are very fortunate that we are almost creating a mobile sales force of people that are on our bikes.”
From the looks of things, its customer-centric design process isn’t just talk. Ty said that if you look at the changes that went into its 2019 model year bikes, a “pretty large percentage of the changes actually came from feedback from our customers.” That’s really cool to be able to do and one huge benefit of leveraging a direct-to-consumer business model not only to cut out the middle man and bring savings to their customers, but more importantly to build real relationships with customers that allow them to get some skin in the game and contribute their ideas to the next generation product.
A Different Take On Service
Maybe it’s just me, but the prospect of dropping $1,500 USD or more on an electric bike is a HUGE purchase and as such, I was eager to hear about the ebike service process. What happens when I snap a pedal off? What happens when I need to replace the chain? And most importantly, what about that battery?
The Flagship 2019 RadRover. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
I dug right into the heart of the matter and to my surprise, Ty was excited to talk about the service model. It turns out, they had been thinking about and planning for a remote service model from the start. Because it was a foundational belief, “the bikes were designed to make [remote service] very, very conducive,” Ty said. All of the unique components on the bike, like the electrical system, were designed to be modular. Each have a single unique connector that makes it easier for an owner to simply unbolt the part, unplug it and replace it with a new one if something goes wrong.
“We knew from the very very beginning that service and support would have to be a huge part of this,” he said. Ty continued that service is such a core focus for the company that they really do put their money where their mouth is. The largest contingent of the Rad Power Bikes team is focused on customers and service. Rad Power Bikes also developed a robust repository of online resources to guide owners through the most common scenarios they could encounter. That is not revolutionary or game-changing, but represents a solid step towards a robust, well-rounded service program for Rad Power Bikes customers.
Beyond the core electrical system, the majority of the parts on the bikes are standard: derailleurs, chains, gears, and cables. As crazy looking as some of its bikes are, they are still bikes at the core. That lets most owners do the normal tuning and maintenance that they would on their traditional ‘human-powered’ bike on their new boosted Rad Power Bikes. Similarly, the manual components of the bike can be serviced by a traditional bike shop.
If needed, replacement parts are shipped directly to the customer. If the customer doesn’t want to service their bike or doesn’t feel comfortable taking things apart for fear of having to put them back together afterwards, Rad Power Bikes has you covered there as well. “We are partnered with a ton of mobile service providers across the US,” Ty said. They can also work directly with a local bike shop near the customer to coordinate the repair and will even work with the mechanic directly if there are any questions. That feels above and beyond to me.
Rad Power Bikes founders Ty Collins (left) and Mike Radenbaugh (right). Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
Next, I worked him for details about the batteries. How long will these things last? Ty didn’t shy away and dove right in. “The battery is very much so a consumable product meaning that at a certain point, it will have to be replaced.” They are rated for 800 cycles, which means that the amount of life any given customer gets from their battery will depend on how much they use it. If they’re pounding the pavement (or dirt) with their bikes everyday and recharging every night, that translates to just over 2 years, but that’s far from normal.
Digging into customer data, Ty said the average customer is not riding them that heavily and batteries should last 4-7 years before needing to be replaced. Much like electric vehicle batteries, the actual life expectancy depends on a number of factors, such as how often it is used, how far it is discharged, if it is left on the charger for days at a time or left unplugged for months at a time. They try to promote good charging habits with new customers to maximize battery life, but it’s ultimately up to the customer to treat their battery nicely for the longest life.
Why talk about founders and their beginnings? Each of us has our own story of how we cleaned up our lives, how we started biking to work or realized that the new electric train our city just installed could replace our car. We have charged our phones with portable solar panels and started buying second-hand organic cotton clothing.
Many of us have even taken larger leaps to start new businesses and it is our hope that by reading of the journey others have taken, others will be encouraged to throw caution to the wind and to take a leap into the unknown, into a new venture. We have one shot to fix the damage humanity has done and to even start winding back the clock on climate change, but thankfully, businesses can iterate and learn from their failures as they take two steps forward and one step back along the road to a success.
If you are in the market for a Tesla, find someone locally that you know (like in real life) and use their referral code. If you don’t know anyone with a Tesla, go find someone at your local Supercharger and try not to be a creep and ask them for their referral code (they won’t mind). If that doesn’t work, ask a co-worker or a distant relative, post on Facebook or Twitter or just hit up Google. If all that fails and it’s an odd numbered day and not too sunny out, you can use my Tesla referral link to get 1,000 miles of free Supercharging, I guess.