When com­pared with a four-​​mile car ride, a four-​​mile bicycle ride keeps about 15 pounds of pol­lu­tants out of the air we breathe, according to the World­watch Insti­tute. But a host of chal­lenges tend to stand in our way, not the least of which may be the piercing pain we feel in our quadri­ceps while ped­aling up steep hills.

That’s why a team of North­eastern engi­neering stu­dents has cre­ated a tech­nology called HyCycle, which main­tains the effi­ciency of a bike ride while pro­viding a boost for those inim­itable inclines.

The student-​​researchers — Brian Car­bone, Brad Courville, Brian Mar­tins, Jason Rud­bart, Scott Rand and Eddie Vaisman — designed the device for a senior cap­stone project. Elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering asso­ciate pro­fessor Waleed Meleis served as the project’s fac­ulty adviser. He said the device is based on tech­nology devel­oped by elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering asso­ciate pro­fessor Nian-​​Xiang Sun.

The goal of the project, said Mar­tins, E’12, was to “replace motor­ized bikes and also to attract more people to the bicycle as a means of trans­porta­tion with urban environments.”

Each rota­tion of a tra­di­tional bicycle’s front wheel gen­er­ates mechan­ical energy, which is either used to push the bike if it’s on either a flat or inclining sur­face or, in the case of a descent, lost to the envi­ron­ment as kinetic energy.

HyCycle, on the other hand, stores that energy for later use. The front wheel is out­fitted with a cir­cular array of mag­nets and coils. When the wheel rotates, the mag­nets pass over the coils and gen­erate a cur­rent, which is trans­ferred through wires to a lithium ion battery.

When the rider needs a little extra help to get him through a tough por­tion of a long ride, he merely switches a knob on his han­dlebar, which allows cur­rent from the bat­tery to flow back to the coils and push them across the mag­nets. Voila! The wheel rotates without requiring input from the rider.

Data about velocity, bat­tery charge level, har­vested energy and energy used are col­lected via a micro­con­troller and trans­mitted to an Android phone appli­ca­tion designed by the student-​​researchers. The app allows riders to visu­alize riding statistics.

Rand, E’12, who worked on the elec­tric motor design and both the energy har­vesting and dri­ving tech­niques, said the tech­nology is a self-​​sustainable system that never requires out­side resources other than human pedal power.

The team has filed a patent appli­ca­tion through Northeastern’s Center for Research Inno­va­tion. “I would like to see a future iter­a­tion of the HyCycle become a mar­ketable product,” said Courville, E’12. “I think that the tech­nology has a great deal of poten­tial, and with a few design opti­miza­tions and a pro­fes­sional man­u­fac­turing process it could ben­efit a lot of people.”