Ok, it’s a relatively simple idea but I fell for it. I have to admit that I think this is pretty cool. “Precious” is a Specialized bike that has been outfitted with sensors that feed to a live web interface. The website shows the grade the bike is climbing or descending, the cardinal direction the bike is heading, and more. (Check the site during the day; during the night the bike, and the sensors, are still.)
In addition, in a tally reminiscent of scientist Michael Fay’s Megtransect expedition across the Congo basin, the website is tallying roadkills, honking cars, flat tires, and other vital cycling statistics in real time. And building on the temperature, humidity, grade, and map data, Precious has also been programmed to tweet various witty and relevant remarks as @yesiamprecious. (The bike currently has twice as many Twitter followers as its rider – that’s gotta smart!). I thought immediately of HAL, Wired drew a parallel to Knight Rider. You get the idea.
The bike is being ridden by a woman named Janeen McCrae or “the noodleator” as a fundraiser for the Livestrong foundation, and she is also tweeting/blogging the trip at a website called No Direction Known. She had a rough day today, climbing hills in Kentucky, and I have mad respect for her, cycling solo across the country for a good cause. Her blog entries are honest, funny, and well written (though I do wish her RSS feed contained photos).
The sensor-laden bike aspect of this project is somewhat reminiscent of the Yahoo Purple Pedals bikes, which were loaded with GPS and Flickr-connected cameras, and lent to various riders as a Yahoo promotion. (Tech details on the Yahoo bikes) While those bikes had many interesting adventures, the one I remember best is the creative rider who took his, in the pre-election period, on a very carefully planned ride around Manhattan, so that the “dot every sixty seconds” automatic Yahoo map application would spell out “Obama.”
Precious was built by the interactive firm BreakfastNY, and thinking of the Yahoo project begs the question why Precious does not integrate any kind of camera. I guess some task has to be left to the rider in addition to sweating up the hills in the heat. In any case, the country she is currently rolling through is beautiful and challenging, and her efforts deserve our support. She’s only trying to raise one dollar per mile, or $4262, which to be honest seems like a pretty low goal for a solo cross country ride, and it must be feeling especially low as those miles drag on during this section of the ride, climbing hills in the Kentucky heat. So I pitched in for a couple dozen miles tomorrow, and you should to.
Ride strong, Janeen! Say hello when you reach Seattle!