Social Bicycles: Wireless-Enhanced Bike Sharing

When acclimating to new concepts in the sharing economy, it's natural to lump like things together. The first time you learn about car sharing, it's easy to say that all car sharing companies are like Zip Car. The first time you learn about a bike sharing program, you might assume that they all work the same way: rent bike, ride bike, return bike.

Innovation, however, is the lifeblood of what Lisa Gansky calls "Mesh businesses": companies that exist to help their customers reduce the cost of a low impact, convenient lifestyle.

That's why Social Bicycles, a new project currently raising money on Kickstarter, caught my eye. SoBi, as it's lovingly referred to, aims to change the world of bike changing as we know it by adding a much-needed dose of mobile technology.

"I think we are taking the obvious evolutionary path in an increasingly connected world," said SoBi founder Ryan Rzepecki. "Why have smart racks if we could have smart bikes? For the last two years, we’ve been determined to re-invent bike share by putting all of the security and authorization systems onto the bike itself."

How It Works:

  • Social Cyclists find and unlock bikes using their mobile phones, or by entering their account information directly into the keypad on the lockbox.
  • A central server verifies each unlock request and sends a pincode to the bicycle for confirmation on the keypad. Once the correct pincode is entered, the lock is disengaged and the server tracks the location of the bike.
  • When you are finished riding, slide the u-bar into the lock, and the bike notifies the server that the transaction is over and the bike is available.

As an added perk and encouragement to keep your circle of consumption close to home, SoBi puts a spin on Velib’s "first half hour of each trip free" model by allowing 1 hour of total free time each day. If your trip only takes 45 minutes, you pay nothing!

The brilliance of the SoBi system is that it eliminates the often inconvenient step of returning the bike to the location where you first picked it up. In this way, redistribution of the bikes will mostly be handled by the users themselves through a dynamic incentive system.

But wait? What if you ride it all the way home, and that's miles away from a public space where other people would want to pick it up?

"Operators can select the system zone and hub locations and set these boundaries in our database," says the SoBi website. "When a user locks the bike outside of a hub location, they are charged a fee. This fee is posted to the map and the next person to take the bike and return it to a hub receives a credit. This ensures that bikes are consistently returned to hubs, but allows the flexibility to bike directly to any destination within the system area."

SoBi is currently in the funding and testing phases, but it's easy to see how this twist on traditional bike sharing could encourage more people, businesses, and municipalities, to participate in car-less commuting. 

Wanna help Social Bicycles raise money for its next round of bikes? Check them out on Kickstarter.

You can also keep up with their progress on Twitter and Facebook.

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