Sunday, January 24, 2016

Innovations for the bicycle

Coventry Rotary Quadracycle (1886) photo from Fastcoexist website

In my last post I focused on the idea of obsolescence; in particular, technology today that is predicted to be obsolete within a few years.

However, in an interesting article I read about the bicycle, there are various reasons why the bicycle has not yet become obsolete and -- even more important in the article -- why it is not likely to any time in the near future.

Information about innovations for the bicycle and its accessories will be particularly interesting for my students, because so many of them ride a bicycle to class and to work. The city we are in (Vienna, Austria) is extremely bicycle-friendly, which is in contrast to other cities that do not have the infrastructure suited to the bicycle.

The article: The Perfect Urban Bike is Just Around the Corner

Some of the questions that could facilitate discussion of this article are:
  • What are the innovations of the bicycle mentioned in the article?
  • Which innovations have there been in bicycle accessories?
  • Which changes have to take place in cities, rather than in the design of the bicycle?
  • Do you ride a bicycle to class? To work? Why or why not?
  • If you don't, what changes would there have to be to convince you to do so?
  • What changes would have to be make in the bicycle, accessories, cities, homes, and/or the workplace to convince different audiences to ride bicycles insted of cars?
For the last question, students could brainstorm the kinds of people who either do not or would not want to ride bicycles as a form of transportation. Then students could consider what innovations would have to be made to persuade each kind of person.

The Denny - "bike of the future" from Fuji Bikes

Since the article is about innovations, there are many vocabulary items and grammatical structures to indicate change, the future, and comparisons. There are also many sentence structures to indicate why a change is made.

For example:
  • To tackle the ongoing challenge of bike theft, for example, designers have come up with everything from smart bike pedals that track a stolen bike through GPS to a bike frame that converts into a lock.
  • Some technology built into helmets ... can now communicate with equipped cars to warn both cyclists and drivers before a potential crash.
  • To make commuting by bicycle easier, folding bikes keep getting smaller and smaller to squeeze on the subway.
  • One new design for an electric bike can fold up so completely that it fits inside a backpack.
There are many other examples like this. These structures can serve as a useful focus for students when they describe their project work, so they can indicate what the purpose of the project is, for example.

To describe change, there are different ways used: use of tense, comparisons, phrases. Some examples:
  • But that hasn't stopped modern-day designers from trying to make a bicycle better-suited for modern city life.
  • On a part-by-part, problem-by-problem scale, innovations keep accelerating.
  • Luckily, some of that change is starting to happen.

In addition, there are some expressions and idioms that refer to change that will probably not be too difficult for students to figure out in context:
  • The perfect urban bike is just around the corner
  • spawned so many new ideas
  • they nailed the design
  • new bike designs are tackling the issues
  • the bicycle may be on the verge of becoming ...
  • ... will continue to meet us closer to halfway
  • The more fundamental roadblockes in the U.S. are ...
  • The concept of perfection is constantly unrolling.
  • A perfect bike that melds seamlessly into today's technological and urban lifestyle ...

An interesting feature to focus on is the use of the gerund, and how gerunds are used with different verbs. In fact, many of my students assume if a word ends in -ing, it must be a tense with the progressive aspect. Some verb+gerund combinations are:
  • to focus on improving
  • stop designers from trying
  • be on the verge of becoming 
  • to make commuting easier
This can be contrasted with the use of the present progressive tense in such examples as:
  • new bike designs are tackling the issues
  • Some car manufacturers ... are building systems ...
  • Dutch designers are experimenting with ...
There are also words ending in -ing that are adjectives:
  • the most amazing invention known
  • speeding two-ton cars
  • folding bikes
  • winning design
  • a parking space
It is useful for students to become familiar with these distinctions.

Finally, this text has a large number of adverbs, which I always like to work with since my students tend not to use them in their own writing, or they incorrectly use the adjective forms. Some examples:
  • a nearly perfect design
  • devoted entirely to inventions
  • designers finally landed on consensus
  • infrastructure for bikes quickly improves
  • becoming ideally suited for 
  • can automatically detect cyclists
  • fold up so completely that

Perhaps the most important aspect of this article is that the innovations mentioned are extremely interesting, and are related to many different aspects of bicycle use: design of the bike itself; types of accessories; urban design; related accessories for cars. In addition, the bicycle is something that all students can relate to. So it can be used with students of many types of engineering disciplines.

No comments:

Post a Comment