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Wireless bike brake works most of the time

Researchers have developed a wireless bike brake that works almost all the time, a proof-of-concept idea that could open the door to wireless brakes on planes and trains.

A wireless bike brake is just what it sounds like — instead of a cable snaking down the frame to stop the wheels from spinning when a lever is pulled, the stop signal is sent wirelessly.

What's more, the signal is sent by clenching the rubber grip on the handle bar instead of pulling a lever. A pressure sensor in the rubber activates the signal, which is sent via radio waves to a receiver on the bike's fork that activates a disk brake.

The set-up works 99.999999999997 percent of the time, according to Holger Hermanns, a computer scientist at Saarland University in Germany, who designed and measured the performance of the brake.

"This implies that out of a trillion braking attempts, we have three failures," he said in a news release. "That is not perfect, but acceptable." 

Brakes of any sort are never 100 percent fail-safe, but relying on the same type of fickle wireless technology your laptop uses to connect to the Internet or your cell phone to make calls seems risky.

Nevertheless, wireless systems are trending in the direction of implementation in areas where failure isn't an option, such as stopping trains and airplanes.

Concrete plans for wireless brakes on European trains already exist, according to Hermanns. But testing wireless brakes on a train is a complex and risky proposition. That's why he built the wireless bike brake.

"The wireless bicycle brake gives us the necessary playground to optimize these methods for operation in much more complex systems," he said.

The researchers tested the effectiveness with the same algorithms used for aircraft and chemical factories, where failure also is much more serious than a bike that loses its brakes.

While trains and planes of the future could indeed stop with the application of wireless brakes, for now Hermanns says he is looking for engineers to optimize the system for bikes.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for