08 Jun 2017   |   News

German researchers revive a long-ago precursor to the bicycle

European Research Council grant helps electrify a historic, pedal-less vehicle

A grant from the European Research Council will help to bring a very old mode of transport back from the dead.

Before the invention of the bicycle, people rode something known as the draisine or "dandy horse", a chain-less, pedal-less vehicle made almost completely out of wood.

Invented in 1817 by a German, Karl von Drais, the rider achieved propulsion on the draisine by pushing away with their foot, much like the present-day two-wheeled child's scooter.

Now, 200 hundred years after the original was unveiled, a team of computer scientists from Germany's Saarland University has created an electrified upgrade.

To mark the bike’s bicentennial year, the new electric one-off is called the Draisine 200.0 and inside its wooden frame sits an electric motor, battery, sensors and a mini-computer.

The project to restore the primitive bike was led by Holger Hermanns, a computer scientist who previously developed a wireless braking system for bicycles. The ERC awarded Hermanns a €2.4 million euro advanced grant last year so he could advance e-bike software.

The nostalgic appeal of the draisine is clear.

But Hermanns says he will also use the bike to test the validity of some mathematical proofs, with the ultimate aim of helping e-bikes avoid the sort of programming errors that have already become the subject of headlines in other industries.

“If we succeed in making automatic software verification an industry standard, we will no longer have to go through things like the diesel scandal,” Hermanns said.

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