e-bike

Electric bike manufacturer Urtopia recently debuted what it claims is the world’s first smart e-bike with integrated ChatGPT functionality at the EUROBIKE 2023 show this summer in Frankfurt, Germany. 

The ChatGPT app, developed by Open AI, has been worming its way onto and into platforms, devices and vehicles as the possibilities unleashed by generative AI continue to evolve. 

In the case of the Urtopia bike, the company is pitching integrated ChatGPT as particularly well suited for navigation functions, allowing riders to call up destination information with the help of the bike’s built-in GPS navigation and voice recognition technology. 

Beyond ChatGPT, the smart bike also offers integration with popular platforms like Apple Health–including the integration of iWatch health data– and Strava, a social media app that lets users share their cycling tracks. 

CEO Owen Zhang explains at first the company just thought adding ChatGPT to a bike would be fun during an internal hackathon.

Zhang says the idea of integrating a Generative AI platform originated from a tech hackathon, so ChatGPT was the first platform that came to mind, and the selection was also due to the company’s “very good” documentations of the application programing interface (API). 

“As we explored more, we began to expect great potential from combining ChatGPT with our voice interaction experience for better on-road interactions including navigation, information inquiry, riding security and even cycling training,” he says. “It helped me to find one of the great fish and chips spots in London.” 

Zhang explains the bike’s Smartbar OS was developed to support cloud based voice interaction from the very beginning with a 4G connection, as well as a de-noise microphone and on-bike speaker.

“The first development of a quick tech demo was not hard,” Zhang says. “The real challenge was how to provide the best riding experience overall, and what the interaction should be to offer on the road, which would take some ingenious design and hard work.”

From his perspective, an e-bike offers the ability to cover longer travel distances and to explore all the corners of a city or town–a bicycle “with a mind” was part of the company’s larger vision. 

“Riding is not only commuting or training, but it also provides connections to nature, community and to yourself,” he notes. “We hope GenAI can help along the way for better connections and interactions.”

Gartner analyst Pedro Pacheco says adding GenAI to a bike could offer riders some benefits, particularly when it comes to navigation, but adds that for such features to be perceived as useful, the concept must work in practice. 

“If the bike has an integrated navigation system, you just tell the bike where you want to go, or perhaps you can get information on things like tire pressure,” he says. “ChatGPT has great capabilities in terms of natural language processing; it can understand a lot of what you say, but you’re not in an enclosed space like with a car, so you’re dealing with noise, wind, and other factors.”

He adds that although the focus for many technology companies right now is on integration of GenAI tools, only time will tell if a feature like ChatGPT on an e-bike is going to find lasting favor with consumers.

“It’s important to discern between what is real–what will become table stakes in the future–and what is hype,” he says. “At the moment it’s hard to tell if having a GenAI voice assistant in the bike will really be table stakes in five years or if buyers of bikes will look at that as sort of a gimmick–it really depends on how well the solution works.”