Get on your SMART e-bike

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky to invited to test ride a SMART e-bike. There are some things I should point out: -
  • I'm not really a bike rider
  • I haven't properly ridden a bike for many years
  • Riding through London terrifies me
However saying that, the e-bike is pretty, we used the white and green version (it also comes in grey with orange trim - which I thought looked prettier).

The bike is quite heavy (though having an aluminium frame, and the metal drive chain replaced by a carbon-fibre drive pulley), it weighs 26.1Kg. It comes with hydraulic disc brakes front and rear (and mud flaps). The seat is quite comfortable as it contains a gel liner to pad your sensitive bits. There's also an air shock absorber on the front section (which is adjustable) to smooth out those bumps.

In the rear wheel there's a 250W brushless DC motor that can move the bicycle up to 15Mph.There's also an 'automatic' gear system (from 1 to 3 where 1 is the easiest and 3 is the least gearing).

The rechargeable battery (mounted in bit that the seat fits on to) is lithium-ion 48V with a capacity of 423Wh which can be removed. It comes with a normal mains charger (that can charge the battery in situ) and a full charge takes around 5 hours. The battery is guaranteed for 500 charging cycles and will retain 80% residual charge for 2 years. The management unit also has a USB port (for diagnostics/software upgrades/etc) and can also change a device like a smartphone, useful with the optional smartphone holder that mounts in-front of the unit allowing a user to use GPS/maps/etc.

There's also a display mounted between the handle bars that is the 'brains' of the e-bike. It has a trip counter, shows the battery charge remaining, speed and also the amount of power applied to the motor (from zero to 4 units at max power). The unit can also put the motor into charge mode (from -1 to -4) where the the motor will then act as a brake.

When riding from stationary, the motor won't actually kick in until the pedals have completed around 2 revolutions, this is to stop the bike say lurching forward when traffic lights go green, straight in to the back of a vehicle in front.

Riding isn't effortless - a rider still has to pedal, though when the motor kicks in it;s certainly easier riding. Also when climbing a steep hill, putting the e-bike into low gear and turning on full motor assist does make a life a lot easier.

If then going down a hill, put the motor into charge mode and as well as the motor acting as a smooth brake, it also charges the battery. The battery is also charged when the front-brakes are applied (i.e. the motor assists with breaking).

I managed a ride of 13.9 miles in about 4 hours (with a break) and wasn't particularly sore afterwards (apart form soft fleshy bits, but that's just not being used to bike parts rubbing me). It really did make riding easier. The bike has a range of 60 miles (I'd assume normal road riding conditions), though this will vary depending on how much the motor is used and how much the motor is used as a brake (which will charge the battery).

There was one major flaw with the bike, the controls for the management unit are on the unit itself, when they should have put them near the handles of the bike (maybe an extension system). Changing the controls meant taking your hand off the grip and fiddling with the control unit, which isn't the safest thing in the world.

The bike is also heavy, so manoeuvring at slow speed (like going through cycle gates) was hard as it meant moving a heavy bike and trying to navigate odd turns etc. and at low speeds 9without pedalling) you're on your own.

The e-bike isn't cheap, it costs £2,600 without any of the accessories - coming from Mercedes, they're not cheap either.

NOTE since writing this SMART have updated the e-bike and put the controls for the management unit into the handlebars, they've obviously listened to feedback fro early users. Maybe the next version will be made out of carbon-fibre and thus reduce the weight too.

TomTom devices gives access to engine info for smartphone use

TomTom Business Solutions is launching a new device the TomTom Link 100. This connects to the engine management unit (EMU) via the standard CAN-bus and has a built in 3D accelerometer. This then can connect to a smartphone device via Bluetooth allowing easy diagnostics in the event of a crash or even the vehicle breaking down.

All modern cars use the standard bus interface so it should work will most cars on the road.

The device can also be used by insurance companies to track driving habits etc (though no GPS information is available), drivers could also use the device to improve their driving.

TomTom have not said what data is exposed (apart from RPM, load and temperature), though the EMU provide a lot more information and with the right application many minor faults can be reset by such a device making trips to the garage less frequent (and also allowing drivers to check what faults garages etc are charging them for and whether it is a major or minor fault).

If the all the data is exposed and TomTom allow read and write information it could allow app vendors to make interesting solutions to make the driving experience better, though of course insurance companies will want these devices to ensure drivers drive better.

Ofcom consulting on releasing public sector spectrum

Ofcom, the Super regulator that has responsibility for spectrum allocation, is consulting on the planned release of MoD spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands.

The bands being made available are 2350 to 2390 MHz (40MHz) and 3410 to 3600 MHz (150MHz). It is expected that these bands will be licensed for use by mobile network operators for 4G/LTE services, though other broadband services could also be offered.

Unfortunately these bands are also used by amateur radio and it is likely that severe interference can be expected. Therefore Ofcom has proposed three recommendations to minimise interference.

  • i) Remove access to the adjacent bands
  • ii) Retain access to the adjacent bands on the current terms but with clarification of the notice period required for future amateur use to cease if amateurs cause interference to other users in the release band or the adjacent band
  • iii) Restrict amateur access to a smaller part of one or more adjacent bands.
Of these 3 Ofcom's preferred option is ii) whereby Ofcom will require amateurs to stop using these bands if there is interference to licensed users (with a notification period).

Ofcom wants to make changes to amateur licenses such that if the proposals are accepted would

  • i) remove the frequencies of the release bands from the licence.
  • We have set out three options for the adjacent bands and are recommending option two which if implemented would:
  • ii) introduce a procedure to enable removal of additional frequencies (i.e. the adjacent bands) to quickly if harmful interference arises in the future.
Though this will adversely potentially affect amateur radio users, the benefit to the overall population will be increased with access to more spectrum for LTE or other services.

The consultation has now closed.

Ofcom consults on whitespace co-existance

Ofcom, the Super regulator that handles radio spectrum as part of its remit, is holding a consultation on the coexistence of whitespace devices.

Whitespace is the spectrum that is unused in certain areas due to geographic transmission systems that can not overlap and in this case relates to the UHF TV channels (470 MHz to 790 MHz). As there are multiple transmitters across the UK, adjacent transmitters can not operate in the same frequency bands (especially for digital TV) or the transmitters would interfere with each other.

This leads to large chunks of the UHF spectrum not being used in a particular geographic zone, which could be used for other purposes (as long as it was low power and didn't reach neighbouring areas).

Current plans are that whitespace devices will monitor what bands are in use (by listening to those frequencies) and thus not use them, in the UK they must also contact a central database, report their location and the database will specify what frequencies are available and what power they can transmit at.

There are other services that can also be interfered with such as program making and special events (PMSE) - things like outside broadcast units which can use some of the spectrum for remote TV cameras and such like, which also have to be catered for.

Ofcom have already said they will allow whitespace use on a license exempt basis, but they also must ensure that there will be no harmful interference to digital terrestrial television (DTT) and PMSE.

Whitespace technology is new and thus there is some uncertainty on how whitespace devices may interfere with DTT or PMSE services. However Ofcom doesn't want to overly constrain whitespace use such that large amounts of spectrum go unused, or that power levels/etc are so restrictive that reaching any sizeable population is unrealistic.

Ofcom will currently err on the side of caution and setting parameters that can be relaxed in future. Later this year there will be a set of pilot trials across the UK with a number of service providers where the increased power levels can be used for limited periods of time to ensure interference doesn't occur. The trials (and stakeholder consultations) will continue until Summer 2014 and will help Ofcom set the parameters for future national whitespace roll-outs starting in Q3 2014.

Ofcom has set the parameters and algorithms for use in trials to minimise the effects on

  • Digital Terrestrial Television services
  • licensed users of equipment for Programme Making and Special Events
  • services above and below the UHF TV band.
Ofcom have also noted that whitespace availability will vary in areas across the UK i.e. London has relatively low DTT issues with whitespace use while Glasgow has much less spectrum available, however Glasgow has very little PMSE use while in central London (and areas like Wembley Stadium) there is a large amount of use.

Though it is yet early days, whitespace spectrum should allow high bandwidth services with good propagation characteristics (coverage) which could be used to provide mobile network operator capacity off-loading, broadband and machine-to-machine (M2M) services.

Companies such as Neul (a CSR - now Samsung spin-off) are betting their futures on whitespace.

The consultation closes on 15 November 2013 and stakeholders can respond on-line.

Ofcom consults on Spectrum Management Approach in the 70/80GHz bands

Ofcom, the Super regulator that looks after spectrum management is holding a consultation on proposals to change the management and authorisation approach used to manage the bands 71 - 76 GHz and 81 - 86 GHz (70 / 80GHz). These offer 2 x 4.75 GHz of bandwidth allowing very high capacity links (over 1Gb/s) which are not supported in lower frequency bands. These bands have been available for use since 2007.

Currently the spectrum is not managed at is up to the users of these bands to co-ordinate amongst themselves on use (self coordinated spectrum), though currently use of the spectrum is minimal compared to lower frequency bands. However with the rapid adoption of 4G services and the bandwidth that will be required to remote cell-sites, usage can be expected to rapidly increase and operators are now worried that self-coordinated management will not suffice as links in these bands will have to provide 99.99% to 99.999% availability, so any interference could be disastrous for mobile networks.

Ofcom is proposing to manage the spectrum in a mixed manner offering partial self-coordinated use and partial managed use.

    • Ofcom coordinated approach: 2 x 2 GHz
      Guard band: 2 x 250 MHz
      Self coordinated approach: 2 x 2.5 GHz
  • NOTE Image (C) Ofcom.

    This will allow non-critical links to be operated as now in the higher part of the bands while more critical services will be in the lower part of the bands managed by Ofcom (using the same regulatory environment as for fixed links in lower bands).

    This should be good news for users and backhaul links get very expensive very quickly and can limit the growth of a mobile network (in terms of coverage), so being able to use protected spectrum to maintain high bandwidth links to cell-sites and allowing the networks to provision more 4G cells.

    The full consultation is available on-line and stakeholders may respond here, the by 5th October 2013.