Engineering students have patent pending
By Mary Katherine Flanigan, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, April 21, 2006
Because of the Gyrobike, a new bicycle invented by Dartmouth students, young children may soon be able to hop on their bikes and pedal down the road without any previous experience.
Hannah Murnen '06, Augusta Niles '07, Deborah Sperling '06 and Nathan Sigworth '07 invented the Gyrobike, which corrects for the "falling feeling" experienced by first time bike riders, after being assigned to build a toy for teaching and learning during their Fall 2004 Engineering 21 class.
When the group first toyed with the idea of creating a bike that would help young children learn to properly ride on their first attempt, they were told their idea would never work. Gyroscopic stability has been researched before, but most engineers believed that it could not be used with bikes, Niles said.
"At their proposal stage the faculty were really skeptical. We had several reasons why we thought it wouldn't work, but they proved us wrong," said Peter Robbie, one of the engineering professors who taught the course.
The team's goal was to take a problem, in this case the ineffectiveness of training wheels, and design a solution.
"Training wheels teach children to ride improperly by balancing on one wheel or the other rather than using their weight to properly balance the bicycle," Sperling said.
The Gyrobike works through a combination of elementary physics and creativity. A spinning flywheel in the front wheel creates gyroscopic force and as the child begins to fall, torque is applied to the top of the wheel and the wheel axis turns away from the vertical. Precession turns the wheel into the fall which steers the bicycle back underneath the mass of the child, Niles said.
In addition to testing their bike on children of Dartmouth faculty, the team also did "ghost testing," which involved pushing the bike forward without a rider. Their results showed that the Gyrobike stayed up five times longer and went ten times farther than a bike without the spinning gyro. The bike also fell in a big arch circle, proving that the flywheel did have an effect on how the bike fell.
After testing the Gyrobike, the group applied for a United States Patent. The project has been patent-pending for over a year and is expected to be approved and possibly licensed in the near future. The team members have worked with the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network as well as local alumni to develop a marketing strategy for the product and identify its niche. They are also currently working with lawyer Bill Loginov '85, who agreed to do their patent work for free.
"Bill is a great guy. He agreed to help us because he just loves Dartmouth so much and wants to see students succeed," Niles said.
In addition, students at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth have taken on the task of developing a comprehensive business plan for the team as part of a first year class. The students have also sought outside help with their project, working with Seven West Ventures, which is a venture capital consulting and investment partnership firm.
"They're helping us come up with a business plan and they're taking it to a conference in a couple of weeks," Sperling said.
In the past, other students in Engineering 21 have developed successful inventions and taken them to the marketplace. Students in one class wanted to find a way for rescue workers to locate disabled vehicles whose air bags had been deployed. Out of this the concept, the "OnStar" Global Positioning System was born, which is now used in vehicles across the country, Robbie said.
"Occasionally the students' inventions end up in the marketplace, but the real value is using creative thinking and engineering processes to address real human needs," Robbie said.