Automatic e-bike power cuts to be trialled in Amsterdam

New 'intelligent speed adjustment' technology can actively restrict motors when riding through hazardous areas, as developers liken it to the seatbelt

Clock19:00, Tuesday 12th March 2024
New tech being developed in Amsterdam could see e-bike motors restricted in dense urban areas like this

© GCN

New tech being developed in Amsterdam could see e-bike motors restricted in dense urban areas like this

The next step in the regulation of e-bikes could come in the form of automatic speed restrictions, with the Dutch capital of Amsterdam announcing plans to introduce technology that can cut out a motor in certain zones or situations.

The city had previously experimented with GPS-based pushed notifications that alert certain e-bike users to location information and speed advice via a connected companion app. Now, though, a further step is coming in the form of an add-on that can restrict the e-bike’s speed without the rider making any such command.

The system has been developed by the non-profit Townmaking Institute, with the connectivity tech coming from Odido, formerly T-Mobile Netherlands.

"We have a bike that can really be slowed down,” said Melanie van der Horst, Amsterdam’s Deputy Mayor who heads up the city’s traffic and transport policymaking. "I’m curious to see people using this technology. Later this year, we are actually going to do a test on a cycle route in the city. I hope the busy bike paths in our city will be safer with intelligent speed adjustment."

Read more: Illegal e-bikes: Dutch police unveil roadside power-testing equipment to catch law-breakers

At present, regulations in the Netherlands limit pedal-assist e-bikes motors to 25kph, above which a rider must rely solely on the power in their legs, but this new connected technology would cut the motor at an even lower threshold, such as around schools, parks, and areas of dense traffic at busy times of the day.

Van der Horst has tried out a prototype for herself, telling the NRC newspaper: “I saw a child playing football on my screen. A little later, it switched to red, and my speed dropped to 15 kilometres per hour.”

Read more: How to spot an illegal e-bike

Nudges and nannies

The exact nature of the technology involved has not yet been revealed, but the idea is that it would be compatible with all major e-bike motors, able to communicate with them and restrict their power output.

“There are five manufacturers and suppliers of electric bicycle motors, and they all work with similar systems,” said the Townmaking Institute’s Paul Timmer. “The more complicated question is whether cities actually want to implement the system and can convince e-bike riders to use it.”

The system would not, as some reports have suggested, be able to remotely brake an e-bike. Instead, it would be able to cut the pedal-assist power output from the motor, leaving it as a standard human-powered bike. Documentation from the Townmaking Institute indicates the device can send three instructions to the motor: ‘modulate torque’, ‘modulate power’, and ‘cut all assistance’.

Read more: The Dutch turned the Netherlands into a bicycle utopia. Here’s how we can do the same in other countries

The alerts come in two forms: nudges and nannies. The former are non-intrusive notifications for things to be aware of in the immediate surroundings, while the ‘Nanny’ sees the device step in to ‘actively ensure a lower maximum speed’. According to separate pieces of documentation, this is “for the safety of everyone on and around the bike path” but also “when cyclists exhibit dangerous behaviour that pose a threat to pedestrians and fellow cyclists”.

Technology that restricts speeds in certain locations and at certain times already exists across large-scale city e-bike and e-scooter rental schemes. This new step would be voluntary for private owners of e-bikes, unless the authorities somehow pushed to make the technology mandatory as part of any even tighter regulation over e-bikes.

“The vision is to make this technology accessible as a standard safety feature, akin to the seatbelt,” reads a joint press release from the parties involved.

Referring to concerns over autonomy and, to use the scheme’s own wording, a nanny state, Van der Horst said: “This plan does something to cyclists’ sense of freedom. On the other hand, their current freedom also affects the freedom of others, and their speeding limits this.”

Amsterdam, Townmaking Institute, and Odidi will work on refining and industrialising the technology, with a view to rolling out a trial next year and possibly even extending it across other European cities.

For more e-bike news and features, visit our dedicated e-bikes page.

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