In energy harvesting, the wheels never stop turning

Power play: Chess Bike, the first product from Holbrook-based startup Chess Fit, turns exercise energy into electricity.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Ramuel Maramara is pedaling an all-new energy-harvesting device, and as usual, he’s not thinking small.

His “artificial jellyfish” technology, still gearing up for a major dress rehearsal off the Philippine coast, is looking to revolutionize the renewable energy industry. And yeah, as a bonus, the tech has potential desalination side effects that are still in the earliest developmental stages, but could someday provide virtually boundless freshwater supplies on a global scale.

These are not minor ambitions. And neither is the thinking behind Maramara’s new startup, Chess Fit Inc., and its flagship product, the Chess Bike (company officials were on the fence between “Chess Bike” and “Chess Trainer,” Maramara noted, but the former ultimately won out).

Big picture: Virtual-reality tours meet real-world benefits aboard the Chess Bike, according to Ramuel Maramara.

Whatever you call it, the self-billed “world’s most intelligent exercise machine” is capable of turning human sweat equity into bona fide electricity at an extremely efficient clip – by turning your fully functional bicycle into a stationary exercise bike.

The Chess Bike boasts several high-tech twists. First and foremost, the proprietary platform – which slightly elevates and strongly secures the bike’s rear wheel – translates energy spent on pedaling into new electricity.

The juice is stored in one of three different battery packs – small, medium and large, basically – offering hours of portable power for phones, tablets, laptops and virtually any other device or appliance requiring fewer than 85 watts.

Chess Fit has also created iOS and Android apps with four different training modes, giving the user smartphone-based control of resistance levels (making it easier or more difficult to pedal), access to advanced “Fitness Professional” protocols and even a “3D Virtual Reality Tour” featuring luscious 360-degree videos – the Chess Bike has its own VR headset – and changing resistance levels depending on the virtual terrain.

Launched in August by Maramara and cofounder David Quitoriano, Chess Fit is a very distant cousin of Maramara’s other energy-focused enterprise, Brimes Energy. While they share a basic concept – motion-generated electricity – and some financial backers, the Chess Bike tech and the jellyfish tech at the heart of Brimes Energy are apples and oranges, according to Maramara.

“It’s a different kind of market and a different kind of machine,” he told Innovate LI. “The jellyfish is more industrial. This is more commercial. There’s a lot more electronics involved, a lot more software.”

Enter Quitoriano, a veteran programmer who built Yehey – the “Philippine version of Yahoo,” Maramara noted – and ultimately sold the circa-1990s, pre-Google search engine to an Asian software company. The combination of the cofounders’ software-development and mechanical-engineering chops fuels the Chess Bike, which according to Maramara solves the No. 1 problem of motion-generated electricity harvesting.

“The hardest part is getting the most electricity from your muscle power,” he said. “Our legs are capable of generating maybe 500 watts, and we are able to [harvest] about 250 watts, up to 350 watts when pedaling really hard.

“That’s very, very high.”

Maramara was understandably tightlipped about the Chess Bike’s secret formula, though he did note a twin-generator system that allowed designers to “optimize the design, cost-wise.”

“We’re able to get that much of a harvest from your legs, and still keep the cost down,” he said.

The inventor basically built the Chess Bike prototype himself – “I’ve been building machines since I was a child and it’s just natural to build new ones,” Maramara noted – through his Brimes Industrial subsidiary. To date, a handful of angel investors, including some Brimes Energy backers, have staked Chess Fit to the tune of $75,000, but now the Chess Bike is ready for a higher gear.

This week, Chess Fit launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 by Feb. 13, with donor packages ranging from a hearty “thank you” (and a shout-out on the company’s website) for a $5 pledge to the full shebang – including the generation platform, all the batteries and the VR gear – for $899, more than half off the projected retail price.

The $100,000 will be enough to start taking pre-orders and “get us to the next model,” Maramara said. Although the prototype was made on Long Island, to “get to scale and get to the right price point,” Chess Fit selected a manufacturer with operations in the Philippines and Taiwan, the cofounder added.

That next model will most likely be the Chess Rower, Maramara said, and while it won’t likely connect to your existing canoe, it will bring rowing indoors, with all the VR bells and whistles. Maramara sees it as the perfect marriage of technology and purpose, with numerous benefits in several directions.

“We want exercise to make sense,” he said. “We want it to have meaning. So we’re giving everybody a reason to exercise more.

“This is not just about getting fit,” Maramara added. “By harvesting your energy and helping the environment, you feel a lot better, and not just physically. You feel like you’re doing the right thing.”