Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Robots Are The Future- Or Are They?

Diagram showing key components of Rock Shox's Flight Attendant. (Image courtesy of SRAM)
News hit the digital ether yesterday concerning a new technology advancement from Rock Shox/SRAM for mountain bikes. It is what they call "Flight Attendant". Essentially it is a computer algorithm which decides how to adjust your full suspension on the fly based upon inputs from key sensors at the bottom bracket and shocks. Of course, that is a very simplistic look at this. Go hit the link if you want to nerd-out on the specifics. 

I watched a decently long video concerning the new Flight Attendant, (again- what's with these weird names for components?), and it is pretty impressive. Impressive from a technological standpoint, from a novelty standpoint, and it is equally impressively expensive since it comes, for the time being, on only four range-topping bikes from four companies. 

So what? Who cares if these are only going to be seen on the racks of the rich and sponsored? Well, it is the way that the technology was derived for Flight Attendant that matters. It is based off AXS technology, and eTap AXS groups already use the same wireless technology and batteries that Flight Attendant uses. 

Trek's ISO Speed decoupler is passive....for now. (Image courtesy of Trek)

Many attempts are being made at trying to reduce vibrations to riders, and many companies are starting to push 'gravel bikes' into light MTB areas. Who is to say that an eTap AXS system wouldn't be developed which could take the complexity of suspension set up, make it 'automatic', and do the job? 

The fact that SRAM has chosen to milk as many applications for this AXS technology as it can shows me that this idea isn't as far-fetched as it might seem. However; there is one thing holding that back. Conformity. 

Unless SRAM can get some brands to buy into a fork, or a stem/seat post idea that could be affixed to any bike, I don't see it happening. Frame mounted suspension components for MTB bikes are a bit less of a crap shoot to organize a technology around. Almost everyone does telescopic, dual legged forks, and shocks are also telescopic units with standardized lengths and strokes, to some degree. The way those shocks are fitted to bikes is very similar, brand to brand. The gravel bike world doesn't have these restrictions so you get things like Canyon's dual plane handle bar and integrated stem, and Specialized's suspension stem which is integrated, and Trek's ISO Speed decouplers, which are proprietary. 

Rounding up a way to use this AXS/Flight Attendant idea for gravel would be like herding cats, at least for now. (I am sure of this because I have a cat!) But I don't think we've seen the last of suspension for gravel bikes. Robotically controlled or no, I bet something will surface in the next five years that will blow our minds and be really expensive!


Skidmark said...

At some point we’ll just have to call it a pedal-powered robot.

S Sprague said...

Maybe, using AXS on the Reverb in addition to crank sensors and a sensor in the Reverb, it could "soften" the ride on gravel? Like a suspension post? I'm just spit balling it but you never know. It's interesting where this is going, but now even more batteries to keep track of before a ride.

Guitar Ted said...

@S Sprague - Yeah, I would imagine some sort of damped travel seat post idea. There are posts which do a great job of damping vibrations but their springs are not damped and that can get a bit annoying. One could easily imagine a system controlled by an AXS-like algorithm that could sense whether a rider was pedaling and whether the input on the post was induced by vibrations or bumps on the road, giving the rider a firm saddle feel on climbs, for example, and soaking up washboard and vibrations from stones on the other hand.