Art without engineering is dreaming;
Engineering without art is calculating.

Steven K. Roberts, N4RVE

The Winnebiko III Project Needs YOU

This relic from 1989, early in the BEHEMOTH project (before it was called that), came to my attention exactly 30 years later thanks to Paul Schleck who alerted me to the website that is replaying usenet. At this moment in my life, I was fully immersed in the third bike version, at once thrilled and overwhelmed by its scope. Only ten days earlier, I had given a short presentation at Xerox PARC (video), then zoomed to San Francisco to display at the West Coast Computer Faire (video)… and later on this same day met up with NHK for a filming near Milpitas. Three decades down the road, I can barely remember that energy level…

Anyway, this quest for geeks was cross posted to comp.misc, rec.bicycles, rec.ham-radio, and sci.electronics… and lots of conversations got started as a result. I am posting it here as pre-formatted monospaced text (which might be weird on phones) to preserve the pure-ASCII flavor of Usenet.

Call for Wizards:
Computing Across America needs YOU!

by Steven K. Roberts
Milpitas, California — March 24, 1989

     Help! 

      I have a problem.  As you may have read elsewhere on the nets 
or in various magazines, I'm in the process of rebuilding the 
Winnebiko -- the computerized, solar-powered, recumbent bicycle that 
has already carried me 16,000 miles around the US.  The new system is 
intended for open-ended international travel, with enough on-board 
computation, communication, and power-generation resources to make 
its location on the planet essentially irrelevant. 

      The design is developing well, and numerous subsystems are 
arising from the clutter of my temporary lab here in the wilds of 
Silicon Valley.  But I've come to realize that hitting the road in 
this decade requires more manpower:  wizards of all types, 
machinists, technicians, programmers, design engineers, PC fab 
houses, RF magicians, project-management heavies, and even a few 
crank-turners.  I've bitten off a big one, and if I try to finish it 
alone I'll be old and fat by the time I return to the road (and the 
parts of the system finished first will already be obsolete!). 

      Are you interested in hands-on involvement with the Winnebiko? 
There's no direct cash in it, but there ARE some distinct benefits... 

-->    First and foremost, FUN.  This continues to be the bottom
       line:  that fundamental passion that makes our eyes light up 
       at new gizmology, triggers dreams of future systems, and makes 
       the whole idea of a computerized bicycle with real-time 
       aerodynamic modeling, live mapping, navigation, CAD, solar 
       power, regenerative braking, a handlebar keyboard, speech I/O, 
       and a satellite earth station seem endlessly alluring.  There 
       is a delicious feeling of conquering steep learning curves, 
       applying creative skills across a wide range of specialties, 
       beating trade-offs by inventing new rules or breaking old 
       ones, and generally exercising the brain -- for this project 
       is unlike most work in industry in that cost is no object.  We 
       have over 100 corporate equipment sponsors, habitually choose 
       the best of everything, and remind ourselves constantly that 
       this is art as well as engineering. 

-->    Second, there's glory in it.  The system has spawned hundreds
       of magazine articles over the years, and I'm always happy to 
       share the spotlight with those who have had a creative role in 
       the design.  If you're on a competitive career track, 
       publication credits will dramatically spice up your resume; if 
       you're looking for exposure, a few well-placed mentions are 
       worth infinitely more than paid ads. 

-->    Third, there's strong potential for indirect money in it.
       This comes from two sources:  product spinoffs and consulting 
       gigs.  A number of these subsystems have potential in 
       environments other than compu-bikes, and I'm starting to build 
       joint ventures to get a few of them into the market before 
       someone beats us to it.  And consulting deals come my way 
       constantly -- instead of my usual mumbled, "uh, no, I'm too 
       busy," I now refer clients to the people who have proven their 
       wizardry on related projects.  One fellow has billed almost 
       $50K in the last year as a result of such leads; another is 
       just now bootstrapping himself into full-time freelancing on 
       the strength of CAA referrals. 

-->    Finally, there are all those other little things that add up.
       The Winnebiko design team (an ad-hocracy called Nomadic 
       Research Labs) is a wild, networked community of kindred 
       spirits:  making contacts like this can have far-reaching 
       consequences.  You'll be kept current on the adventure, 
       receiving a copy of my book and a free subscription the the 
       Journal.  And you just might be invited to trash your 
       lifestyle and go for a long bike ride....... 


The Winnebiko III 

      Before outlining specific projects I need help on, I should 
give you an overview of the new machine.   After 16,000 miles, a 
number of deficiencies in the existing design have become apparent -- 
most notably architectural inflexibility as evidenced by the 
hardwired front panel.  I'm tired of editing with a soldering iron, 
and the design is frozen in 1985 technology. 
  
      The key to the new structure is a "resource bus" controlled by 
a 68000 running FORTH.  This is the bicycle control processor (BCP), 
responsible for active management of everything on board via a SCSI 
bus, I/O processor, and a few high-speed serial links.  The SCSI 
channel is expanded into a novel I/O structure that consists 
primarily of 128-point crosspoint matrices:  Mitel parts that toggle 
an array of FETs as dictated by a field of RAM.  Through these pass 
all serial, analog, and audio information on the bike. 
  
      Other I/O is more traditional, tying to a standard I/O 
expansion bus.  The effect of all of this, stepping back one level of 
abstraction, is a five "channel" bus (power, serial, audio, analog, 
data) that links the following devices in any imaginable combination: 

     speech synthesizer                 low-power packet TNC 
     all-mode RF data system            UHF transceiver (business) 
     2-meter VHF transceiver            UHF transceiver (ham, sat) 
     10-meter all-mode transceiver      cellular phone 
     cellular phone modem               DTMF transceiver 
     analog mux (with quad-slope D-A)   fax and modem board 
     console printer/plotter            HF ham transceiver 
     GPS nav receiver with temp LORAN   auto transmission logic 
     286/386 DOS engine                 security system and pager 
     audio cassette recorder            entertainment electronics 
     bike instrumentation package       49 MHz full duplex base unit 
     speech I/O subsystem               utility I/O board 
     audio processing board             MIDI system 
     console DB-9                       speakers and helmet headset 
     switched loads such as lights      the BCP itself 
          
      Some of the interconnections, of course, would be absurd -- but 
consider some of the possibilities:  Mobile phone patch between 
10-meter ham QSO with Japan and cellular phone.  Reconfiguration of 
packet datacomm to allow full remote console operations from 
manpack-laptop via UHF data link.  Logging and diagnostics to disk 
file or console printer.  Remote touch-tone commands to transmit 
local audio on 49 MHz or any other RF channel.  Logging on to DIALOG 
and doing research while mobile. Introduction of audio filtering and 
other functions to enhance any communication mode.  Synthesized 
security alerts that beacon the bike's exact coordinates on ham 
frequencies (or celphone 911) if it's ever moved without the correct 
password.  Etcetera... 

      On top of all this, there are two DOS environments -- one a 
robust 286/386 for the CAD applications and computer-generated maps 
from CDROM, the other a low-power V40-class board for basic editing. 
These share a 40 Meg hard disk through a LAN and present the basic 
operating environment beyond the FORTH that actually runs the bike 
systems. 

      Two large console LCDs provide the bulk of the user interface, 
with a heads-up display a distinct possibility.  A 640 X 480 VGA 
backlit DST LCD from Sharp is the main graphics display, but it 
requires a 2.5 watt backlight.  When this is a drain on the power 
budget, the DOS systems can request a reflective super-twist 640 X 
200 normally owned by the BCP.  The HUD, if it happens, can be used 
by any system -- primarily for text, database, and map graphics from 
CDROM and GPS data.  Incidentally, the large display will be set 
behind a surface acoustic wave touchscreen to help support 
interaction with the mapping package (point to "contact" icon for a 
pop-up text box with corresponding database contents). 
          
      Speaking of power, there are 6 18-watt solar panels on the     
trailer, and 10 watts on the bike.  These are bussed together to feed 
an array of switching power supplies associated with each battery, 
the status of which is actively metered by the BCP.  The processor 
decides which battery bus is assigned to each load bus, switching 
them dynamically through a heuristic algorithm that attempts to track 
usage patterns and prevent loss of power on a dark night ride.  The 
fallback position here is a variable-reluctance motor/generator 
embedded in the new rear hub, capable of sourcing enough power to run 
everything if I'm willing to put out the human effort.  (Dynamic 
braking, by the way, is automatic -- a pot in the brake lever invokes 
this process invisibly before the hydraulic disc kicks in.) 

      Communications includes cellular phone with modem as well as a 
very robust ham station.  The most interesting part of this is the 
OSCAR satellite station (modes B & J), which uses a collapsible 
antenna and a pair of multimode transceivers to uplink 435 MHz 
through 12 dbdc gain and downlink 145 through 10 db and a preamp (or 
the inverse).  Supporting this is software in the PC that integrates 
orbital elements into a real-time graphic display of satellite 
location and footprint, along with AZ-EL-Range data.  I do have to 
stop the bike for this, of course -- the beam array when extended is 
almost 9 feet long.       

      The BCP keeps busy doing things besides managing the bus and 
dealing with the handlebar keyboard and mouse -- it also controls the 
bike's new automatic transmission.  Monitoring speed, cadence, 
torque, heart rate, and a subjective "wimp factor" keyed in at any 
time that indicates robustness of the engine, the system manages 
three Browning derailleurs covering 36 separate ratios. This seems a 
step backward from my existing 54 speeds, but of those, I use less 
than half.  The key is range, provided equally well by the new 
automatic system. 

      There's more, but it gets progressively more detailed.  Suffice 
it to say that the overall intent is to expand upon the existing 
theme of my "high-tech nomadics" -- maximum communication and 
computation ability without any geographic or utility support 
requirements.  The obvious practical reason is the enabling of 
open-ended freelance writing and consulting without concern for 
location (linked via a web of networks to base office and publishers, 
powered by the sun, etc.)  The originally unintended spinoff is a 
growing set of relationships with sponsoring companies, many of which 
are now becoming involved in technology-transfer joint ventures as 
the importance of some of these systems becomes interesting to a 
wider segment of the population than computerized cyclists.  And, of 
course, it is demonstrating through extensive ongoing media coverage 
a host of exciting new technologies... all flavored by fun and 
adventure that often seems too good to be true.  The public loves it, 
while learning something at the same time. 


The Project Potential 

      There are dozens of subsystems, custom parts, circuit boards, 
programs, packaging challenges, and various other system components 
that have to work together before the Winnebiko III can roll.  Do any 
of these make your soldering iron, CAD system, or milling machine 
itch? 

The transmission control system:  linking speed, torque, cadence, and 
     cardiac sensors to a dedicated micro under BCP management, and 
     developing the algorithm that will learn from observation of my 
     own shifting patterns under varying conditions.  Output is six 
     bits that control a trio of Browning transmissions. 
      
Virtual front panel control for HF and satellite transceivers:  using 
     a micro to replace hardware front panels and present virtual 
     radio consoles to the BCP screen.  This may requires hacking of 
     radio I/O logic, with the processor sleeping between commands to 
     minimize RFI. 
      
The solar/battery manager:  processor control of the entire charging 
     and power-distribution function, including interface with custom 
     switching power supplies (under construction) and a quad-slope 
     A-D scanning system voltage and current values.  This subsystem 
     should include full profiling of battery performance to aid in 
     resource management. 
      
CDROM-based mapping from GPS input:  Nav data must be integrated with 
     map data to produce a real-time wireframe model of surrounding 
     areas, keyed by lat-long-el data to the database on hard disk. 
     This is a big one.  Subprojects here include GPS implementation, 
     hooks into the map software, and the possibility of using a 
     serious graphics engine to do the crunching. 
      
Regenerative braking controller, working with the variable reluctance 
     motor inventors and the battery management team.  A bonus here 
     is the potential for assigning the 118 watts of solar capacity 
     to the motor for a small power assist (though I won't have 
     enough battery to run the bike on electric power). 
      
Trailer brake system:  using a spring-extend double-acting cylinder   
     built into the hitch and a pair of Mathauser hydraulic brakes, 
     reduce the effective load of the trailer during braking to about 
     10% of its normal value. 
      
Heads-up display system:  helmet-mounted LCD with associated optics   
     and backlight (optional), perhaps with a steerable optical path 
     to accommodate microfiche maps as well. 
      
Improved handlebar keyboard:  waterproof, fast binary keyboard with   
     thumb mouse or other pointing device and a few other controls. 
     Must be ergonomically optimized and non-interfering with 
     mechanical hardware... and must work well with the MIDI system 
     in flute-emulation mode. 
      
Forward Reconnaissance Unit:  This will only happen if the CAA team   
     expands to include a nomad with spare cargo capacity, but it's 
     interesting.  Basically an RC plane with live video transmission 
     via ATV channels back to a Walkman display.  We're looking at 
     the new Philips camera and AEA ATV boards, which have other 
     applications on the bike as well. 
      
Audio matrix system:  Based on the Mitel array and a replicated       
     normalization amp, this allows processor-controlled 
     interconnection of any number of audio sources and sinks.  Best 
     accomplished as PC board, since the 32X32 array has an identical 
     amp circuit on every I/O line. 
      
Packaging projects:  Beam antenna drawer, hard disk shock mounting,   
     satcom area, and a variety of other attempts to protect delicate 
     equipment in a brutal environment without robbing it of utility 
     or making it too heavy. 
      
Trailer system, mechanical:  New trailer design with solar roof,     
     battery compartment, RF and power cabling, and integration of 
     related subsystems like brakes and antenna mast components. 
      
Manpack system:  DOS laptop with small solar panel, UHF packet       
     system, and full duplex audio/video links.  Must be rugged and 
     waterproof... and it happens to be a model for a future 
     commercial personal RF mailbox product. 
      
Antenna system:  With the help of KLM, Larsen, and Telex, optimize   
     HF, satellite, VHF, UHF, and cellular antennas for minimum 
     weight and maximum utilization of shared cabling.  Satellite 
     GaAsFET preamps must be protected from transmitted RF. 
      
Video and Mini OCR system:  CCD video to character recognition       
     software... as well as to the FAX board (with suitable scan 
     conversion).  Same components transmit bike video to remote. 
      
MIDI system:  start with commercial MIDI products (Yamaha DX100 and   
     Breakaway's Vocalizer) and interface to the bus, removing 
     standard keyboard and control panel and replacing with virtual 
     ones driven by handlebar keyboard, voice input, and sequencer 
     software. 
      
Peltier-based water server:  Derive surplus solar or regen braking   
     power and cool a Melcor thermoelectric device in a baffled water 
     reservoir.  A second Peltier device goes in the helmet for 
     active body cooling on hot days, pumping heat out through a heat 
     sink in the airstream. 

Software to accept scanned or other input and create bitmap images   
     for output to the console graphics printer.  These are primarily 
     for on-the-road sponsor referrals. 

Countless other software projects, ranging from FORTH tasks to       
     dynamic airflow modeling.  The environment consists of three DOS 
     platforms, the 68000 FORTH system, an I/O processor, a 
     high-speed array processor, and a half-dozen dedicated micros on 
     the network.  I assume a laptop Mac will provide biketop 
     publishing capability by 1990. 

Various mechanical projects as well:  hydraulic rear disk brake,     
     heavy duty headset bearing, new steering bearing, flip-down 
     service/work stand for the whole bike, utility boxes, rear 
     enclosure, etcetera. 

      ... and so on.  There are enough projects here to keep a whole 
party of creative people happy for months.  If this were a company 
with a production deadline, I'd panic... as it is, I keep reminding 
myself that the bottom line is fun and this is artwork, not business. 
With that in mind, how do you feel about getting involved? 

    I can be reached most anytime at <redacted>.  The address at
this Silicon Valley layover is <redacted>.  Network addresses are:

      GEnie:  wordy 
      WELL:   wordy 
    uucp:   redacted
    packet: redacted

      Thanks for your interest, and for putting up with this long 
document.  Cheers from the vapors of Dataspace!!! 

           -- Steve Roberts, High-tech Nomad 
              Computing Across America