How to build wireless apps that fail three times in a trillion (and a wireless bike brake)

Brake experiment reveals the key to building super-reliable wireless applications

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German computer scientists working on a product that seems either doomed or useless to its theoretical customers have actually done more than create a bicycle brake controlled using a wireless network.

They have highlighted, quantified and laid out in clearly definable terms the false assumptions, poor decisions and sloppy systems design that makes building or using wireless applications chancy.

In building a wireless bike brake no one will buy, they've provided all the evidence you'll ever need on how to build wireless apps that work quickly and reliably no matter how thin the bandwidth, or intolerant the users or other applications are of any delay.

If you're a cyclist, or interested in cycling gear, read the press release here, because it may be the only time you ever see anything about wireless brakes again .

If you're interested in wireless application development or deployment, go straight to the research paper itself around (PDF). The wireless brake may be destined to fail, but the things its inventor learned about how to make machines talk efficiently over wireless networks is definitely worth knowing.

"Wireless brake" and "hit by a truck" sound the same to a cyclist

Despite the impression you may have gotten from Lance Armstrong's obsession with gear and all the new designs, fashions and colorful stuff packed into your local bike store, the cycling industry and cyclists themselves are not quick adopters of new technology.

Sure, bike companies manipulate carbon fiber with the best of them and obsolete their own products so customers can buy replacements nearly as quickly as computer-industry vendors do.

They don't change the basics much, though.

The basic double-diamond shape of the bicycle itself hasn't changed in more than a hundred years. Design and functions of the components evolve slowly. New generations often look identical to old generations, with a few percentage points of improvement in performance or reliability built in or a few grams of weight shaved off.

So word that a group of computer scientists at a German university have built a set of brakes controlled using a small motor for a braking mechanism and wireless signaling device to tell it when to brake and how hard, is unlikely to cause cyclists to line up to try it.

Even its inventor only wanted to teach his wireless brake to talk

Making a popular set of bike brakes wasn't really the point of the project, however.

Photo Credit: 

Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany

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