Remote Bike Mountain Project Proposal

11 November, 2009

Bike Mountain Illustration

Last year, a friend came to me to ask advice about plugging his exercise bike into his computer. He wanted to write a computer game that would be controlled by the rate of speed at which he biked. I pointed him towards the Arduino and told him a little bit about serial communication. Not more than an email or two of advice, really. Before I knew it, he'd succeeded in getting serial out from his bike's RPM meter and drawing graphs of the data using Ruby.

Something about the project immediately made me flash on the Cliffhangers game from the old TV show, The Price Is Right.

In that game, people would guess the price of a series of three objects. For each dollar their guesses were off, a miniature lederhosen-clad mountaineer would climb up a cardboard mountain. If the mountaineer fell off the top of the mountain before the contestant made it through all three items, they lost. Here's some video of the game in action.

Isn't the music amazing?

Anyway, after talking to Chad about his project, the idea popped into my head to build something like the Cliffhanger mountain but to be controlled by his biking progress. The idea was that he'd POST his RPM data online somewhere and then my ethernet-shield enabled Arduino could pull that data down and move a bike up a miniature mountain based on his rate. If he went at the target rate or better, the bike would climb up the mountain. If he undershot the target rate, the bike would slide down.

So, I set out to build a mountain. I went to a local hobby store and bought a classic school science fair volcano construction kit. And then supplemented that with a lot of additional materials. Here are a bunch ophotos of the mountain build process. The result is about three feet by one foot by two feet.

Then, I hunted far and wide for a miniature bicycle. Just when I was near to giving up, some friends, on seeing the mountain for the first time, mentioned that they had the perfect bike. Its wheels and chain even work.

bike mountain head on

Now, with all the pieces in place, I started struggling with the mechanism. I experimented with building a scissor lift out of a pair of servos and some lego pieces but once the lift got long enough, the servos weren't strong enough to overcome the static weight of the big pile of legos. Before arriving at ITP, I just didn't have the chops or resources to figure out how to successfully build the motion to get the bike up the mountain. Now, I think I do and I intend to build out the bike mountain as my final project for Intro to Physical Computing in the coming weeks.

In the many months I've been thinking about this project, an interesting thing occurred to me. In addition to displaying Chad's progress biking far away, the mountain could theoretically make physical many other increasing or decreasing indicators. The bike could climb based on daily stock rates, the number of people present on the ITP floor, the amount of bikes sold in the US, any number you could think of. Should I keep this project as an exercise motivator or widen in to broader data display purposes.

What kinds of data are best accompanied by yodeling?