Oct. 8 - California company Monkeylectric wants to electrify your next bike ride with technology that combines art and science to turn bicycle wheels into spinning works of art.The company uses a programmable LED display to exploit the human brain's perception of what it sees, and is turning heads in the process. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: It's hard to miss Dan Goldwater clients on a night time ride. Thanks to what he calls his monkey lights, Goldwater's bikes have the hottest wheels in town. Goldwater is a self-described tinkerer and the founder of Monkeylectric, the company behind monkeyl ights. He built the first set of wheel display lights in his garage. He says that people began stopping him on the streets when he took his bike on test rides. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAN GOLDWATER, FOUNDER OF MONKEYLECTRIC, SAYING: "To the right of me was a lime green 1970's Cadillac with enormous wheels, a spotless paint job and tinted windows. And we both got to the light at about the same time and this guy rolls down his window, and smoke is pouring out and he says 'nice ride man'." And that's when he realised that his small tinker project could make money. Goldwater says that the idea of lighting up bicycle wheels has been around for more than 30 years, but major advances in computers and LED technology have allowed him and his small team to take these types of displays to a new level. The lights are controlled by a small on board computer which can be programmed to display different patterns. Monkeylectric engineer Phillip Yip shows how the system works. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PHILLIP YIP, ENGINEER AT MONKEYLECTRIC, DEMONSTRATING HOW THE LIGHTS WORKS AND SAYING: "We have four different magnet sensors on here so that it can tell its orientation and speed. So what I am going to do is just wind the pedals and get it started. So what you will see is that some of the LED's will start to flash as it detects the magnet and when it gets up to a certain speed, about 8 to 10 miles per hour, it will show an animation." Unlike conventional animations, these displays need to factor the rate at which the wheel is spinning. Goldwater says timing is everything. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAN GOLDWATER, FOUNDER OF MONKEYLECTRIC, SAYING: "The wheel needs to be moving at a certain minimum speed to be able to see the effect. When someone is stopped, the LED's are still very bright but they aren't moving enough to make a pattern. The pattern itself is actually caused by what is called the persistence of vision effect of your eye." Persistence of vision creates the illusion of one seamless image from a series of closely timed LED bursts, and Goldwater say that in his case, it's attracting a great deal of attention. He says the company is growing and demand for his monkey lights is increasing with orders coming in from around the world. And in addition to the visual appeal, Goldwater says the lights play an important role in road safety. Two good reasons he says, for bike riders to see the light.