Students in Emory University’s bike-sharing program will soon be able to unlock the bikes they want to use by sending a text message. The university will replace its current system, which requires manually checking out a key, with the automatic one, developed by students at the nearby Georgia Institute of Technology.
Each bike in the new “viaCycle” fleet will be equipped with a GPS and locking system. When students or employees want to use a bike, they will send a text message with the bike’s identification number to a server. The server will forward the request to the bike and unlock it automatically. After using the bike, the rider will use an attached cable to secure it anywhere and send another text message to lock it.
Five graduate students and one alumni of Georgia Tech’s mechanical-engineering program won a $50,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund to create the lock system for Emory. Right now the group at Georgia Tech is working on a second version of a prototype, and the final version should be ready for Emory by this summer. Emory plans to add 11 “viaCycle” bikes to its fleet, which has about 40 bikes. Gradually, the university will replace all of its bikes with the new ones.
The head of Emory’s two-year-old bike-sharing program, Jamie Smith, said that Emory had wanted to switch over to an automated system for awhile, but that such systems were generally 10 times more expensive than he expects the Georgia Tech creation to be. Mr. Smith said it made sense for the two institutions to work together on the project because Emory has an established bike-sharing program and “Georgia Tech is bubbling over with innovators and engineers, and people looking for project ideas.”
The GPS on the bikes will allow Emory to set up a perimeter for their use. For instance, if the university wanted to limit bike use to the campus, it could charge a fee to any user who rode a bike out of bounds. If a thief tampers with a cable lock, or if the bike is moving without being checked out, it will send an SOS signal to the main server, and the GPS will show where it is. Mr. Smith also said that the GPS might let students keep track of how many miles they ride, share routes with friends, keep tabs on how many calories they burn, or look at their carbon-footprint reduction.