Interview: This Startup Has Developed a Bike Trailer That Thinks for Itself

© NÜWIEL
Nüwiel have developed a motorised bike trailer that automatically speeds up and slows down as you cycle.

If we want to ensure our cities are smarter, more liveable and more sustainable in the future, we need to come up with transport solutions that save space and resources. Nüwiel's smart electric bike trailer seems like a clever step in the right direction.

Author Sarah-Indra Jungblut:

Translation Sarah-Indra Jungblut, 03.13.17

Our cities are still very much dominated by cars. To keep traffic moving, multi-lane roads run through our cities, and parking spaces turn valuable space into mere points. And what do we get in return? Smog, noise and particle pollution. And it could all be so different! One key component of the sustainable city of the future is the switch to pedal-powered vehicles. But unfortunately, trying to get around with just a conventional bike, we can soon face logistical difficulties. Armed with NÜWIEL‘s intelligent trailer, however, things could look very different.

We spoke to Natalia Tomiyama, who (together with Fahad Khan and Sandro Rabbiosi) is one of the co-founders of NÜWIEL, about how they came up with the idea of a motorised bike trailer, how it all works, and what her vision is for the city of the future.

Where did the idea of a motorised bike trailer come from?

To transport his four sons and his shopping through the city, Sandro, one of the three co-founders of NÜWIEL, always used to use his bike with a trailer attached. But he always ended up exhausted and he felt the current models didn’t offer enough safety, so he came up with the idea of developing a completely new kind of trailer.

A two-day entrepreneurship workshop (HEKATE) brought him together with Fahad and Natalia. Fahad used his experience as a senior design and development engineer to develop the initial idea into the concept of the intelligent, motorised bike trailer. And Natalia brought more than five years’ experience in the field of market analysis and market research, as well as the necessary financing and marketing know-how to the table. Together, the three of them founded the startup NÜWIEL in 2016.

Today NÜWIEL is a ten-person team made up of six different nationalities, speaking a total of ten different languages.

How does the trailer work?

We employ a patent pending technology that allows the trailer to know exactly when it has to slow down, speed up or brake. When going downhill, the trailer brakes slightly and at the same time the batteries receive a slight charge. When going uphill, it can even give the rider a bit of a boost. It can be connected to any kind of bicycle via a standard connector and just one click.

The motor is driven by a replaceable battery that automatically follows the movement of the rear wheel. In that way the trailer carries its own weight and the weight of its load too. A threefold brake system ensures especially high levels of safety, especially at high speeds and with heavy loads. You can even take the trailer off the bike and use it as a motorised handcart inside buildings and difficult to reach places.

What were the biggest difficulties you faced during development?

As is the case with most startups, more than anything it was difficult at the beginning to convince people and investors that the NÜWIEL concept was a viable one. We needed a team and sufficient financing in order to be able to make NÜWIEL a reality. As alumni of Hamburg universities, our first port of call was Startup Dock at the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH).

Developing and producing hardware isn’t just a time consuming process, it’s extremely costly as well. The first financial support we received was through the EXIST startup grant, followed by “InnoRampUp”, from the Hamburg Investment and Development Bank. We’re also a member of the European Cycle Logistics Federation and participate in the Climate-KIC Accelerator programme.

Who is the trailer designed for?

With our electric bike trailers we hope to massively reduce traffic in our cities. In order to achieve that goal we’ve developed the bike trailer for the “last mile” in urban areas. Our trailers are currently being tested by renowned pilot customers, who are using them to replace small to medium-sized delivery vehicles. They allow couriers, distributors and shipping companies to travel around the city 50% faster.

The next step will be to make them available for B2C clients as an acessory for their bike. In that way end conusmers will also be able to do without passenger cars most of the time when moving around within cities.

The trailers can be customised, with different sizes and features. Whether it’s an aluminium crate for heat-, cold-, light- or water-sensitive goods, or in a later version, a wooden and fabric crate for transporting children, sports equipment or pets.

What do you have planned next?

In Summer 2017 we want to begin the pre-sale of our electric bike trailers. Next we’re developing another bike trailer, which can carry up to 200kg. At the end of 2018 the trailers for the end consumers will be ready to go into production.

We’ll also start publicising NÜWIEL in other bike-friendly countries such as the Netherlands, Austria and Scandinavia, in order to expand the operation at some point in the future.

What is your vision for urban mobility? How will people move around in the city of the future?

Our vision is of people in urban spaces moving around free from traffic jams, noise and air pollution and in a flexible way that suits their way of life.

© NÜWIEL The three founders (from left to right): Fahad Khan, Natalia Tomiyama, Sandro Rabbiosi.

More and more people are leaving their car at home and getting into the saddle. Bicycles aren’t just better for the environment – they’re often more practical and quicker too. And they can be used anywhere too – whether you’re taking a jaunt out into the countryside, or on your daily commute. Find out more about the powerful mix of electric motors and classic bicycles on our blog: Are E-Bikes an Urban Revolution on Two Wheels?

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