Bitlock is the world’s first keyless bike lock to enable low cost peer-to-peer bike sharing among individuals and communities. Locking and unlocking is handled through an app, so you no longer need a key, and you can share your bike with your friends—controlling access securely and remotely.
BitLock, a smartphone-controlled Bluetooth bike lock, is bringing that trend to the cycling world, where smart locks have yet to take a foothold.
Bike sharing has been rapidly gaining popularity around the world during the last few years. According to a recent MTI Funded Cycling Report, As of May 2012, there were approximately 184 bikesharing programs operating in an estimated 204 cities around the world, with about 368,600 bicycles at more than 13,600 stations on 5 continents and 36 countries.
The growth of bikesharing has been mainly due to urbanization and immigration of especially younger professionals to cities; those who want to experience the city life and its convenience. Another contributing factor is the maturity and lowering cost of the bikesharing infrastructure including information technology, credit-card payment, online reservation systems as well as GPS tracking.
Public bikesharing makes it easier for some people to use public transit more by solving the “first” and “last” mile problems, while it also facilitates making quicker trips, which enables some users to reach their destinations sooner than they would with bus or rail.
A new breed of bikeshare is unveiled on Kickstarter that uses a patent-pending Bluetooth smart U-lock named BitLock. BitLock replaces the bike key with your smart phone. Through the app on the smart phone users checkout bikes and geo-locate the bikes around them.
The current bikeshare systems in place in large cities such as Capital BikeShare of New York City, BIXI of Montreal, Velib of Paris depend on docking stations where users swipe their credit cards to check out bikes. The major downside of station-based systems is the enormous cost of dock and kiosk installation. Currently it costs upwards of $6000 per bicycle to implement a station-based bike share system in addition to the on-going maintenance costs. Due to such high implementation cost, these systems must be funded by the cities or external sponsors and are rarely profitable. Besides, station-based systems lack flexibility because of the limited number of pick-up and drop-off locations and pose the possibility of users encountering full docks during the peak hours thus requiring an ongoing load balancing operation.
Two newer bikesharing systems, SOBI and ViaCycle, have developed a station-less bikeshare system. The bikes have integrated GPS tracking, a perpetual data connection, a built-in locking mechanism, as well as a solar panel to power the system on each bike. The locking system is designed so that bikes can be locked to generic bike racks. The station-less bike share system offers a relatively lower implementation cost compared to the station-based bikeshare systems. The bikes cost around $1000 plus a monthly data subscription fee.
Another bike sharing model that is geared toward smaller communities such as hotels, apartments, colleges, and businesses use regular locks with mechanical keys. The keys can be checked out at the front desk or from special boxes. Zagster and OnBikeShare, two companies in this domain, mainly provide the bikes and the IT infrastructure for bookkeeping key check-in/outs. The bikes are typically not GPS tracked.
The new bikeshare system enabled by BitLock has multiple advantages over the state-of-the-art. First of all, the new bikeshare system is very affordable. BitLock is priced at $99 on Kickstarter. The cost of the lock and a rugged bicycle together is in the order of a few hundred dollars compared to $1000 of SOBI station-less model and $6000 of station-based systems. Plus there is no data subscription fee since the lock uses the user’s smart phone data connection instead.
Since bikes can be locked to any bike rack, the exiting infrastructure can be used. This also means users can flexibly pick-up and drop-off bikes virtually anywhere. There’s also not GPS on the bikes, and instead the user’s smartphone GPS is used for tracking. Also, since the lock is not attached to the bike, the system can adopt different types of bikes based on the user preferences. For example, mountain bike sharing can be created for recreational use. The system is extremely lightweight. The lock weighs 2.5 pounds and can be easily carried around. BitLock is very user-friendly. No punching in code or swiping credit card will be necessary. The user will just walk up to the target bike and presses the button the lock to unlock. Everything else is managed under the hood.
Democratic bike sharing for everyone
The recent launch of NYC bike sharing program was followed by a wave of criticism and hot debates. Some critics say the kiosks clash with the character of residential areas while some of the criticisms were directed toward placing stations in hand picked neighborhoods. Some local residents complained that the placement of docks on narrow streets has obstructed access for delivery trucks and emergency vehicles. Other technical issues such as software bugs have led to frequent dock failures and problems in processing credit card information. Difficulty in load balancing the docking stations in some instances has left users confronting full docking stations upon return of the bicycles.
The benefits of bike sharing such as, diversifying the exiting transportation options, lowering carbon emissions, helping the local economy, and increasing people’s health and well being, are obvious to many people. However, the root of many complains lies in the fact that residents did not have a say in implementing a system that affect their everyday life, neighborhood, and communities. Some of the problems also arise from the inflexibility of the implemented bike sharing system.
But is there any better alternative way to implement a bike-sharing system? An innovative startup in San Francisco, Mesh Motion Inc, has invented a peer-to-peer station-less bike-sharing platform. The new system is geared toward smaller communities, neighborhoods, school campuses and individuals. The system uses a patent pending Bluetooth enabled U-lock called “BitLock”. Using your smart phone you can connect to Bitlock to lock and unlock the bicycle. Through the application on your smartphone you can manage access permissions, view nearby bike locations, leave review for bicycles, and report problems with bikes. The application also uses the smart phone GPS to record the bike location as it is being picked up and dropped off.
The new peer-to-peer model makes bike sharing more democratic by allowing communities and individuals to start their own bike-sharing program on their terms. They have the freedom to choose the bicycle type, color, and locations in tune with the vibes of their neighborhood and community. Virtual docking stations can be created instead of physical docking stations to manage bike distribution. Additionally, individuals can use BitLock to share your own bicycle with friends, roommates, neighbors, and virtually anyone they trust.
The new system is driving the bike sharing setup cost an order od magnitude lower compared to the station-based systems; making it affordable for almost anyone to adopt or implement the system. Station-based bike sharing system cost an exuberant amount of $10,000 per bike to setup while it costs $99 to obtain Bitlock plus a couple of hundred dollars for the bicycle depending on the bicycle choice.
Created by electrical engineer Mehrdad Majzoobi, the BitLock is purportedly the first keyless bike lock tailored to the peer-to-peer bikesharing community, where the ability to easily grant someone else access to a bike is paramounta. “I come from a hardware security background, and came to look at this problem from a security point of view first–looking at the implications of using smartphones as access control or keys,” he says. “In most peer to peer sharing, there’s the hassle of sending a physical key. I was connecting all the different dots–the security aspects, the sharing economy, the social layer of access.”
The founder has been working with his sourcing partner, Berkeley Sourcing Group, to identify factories in Shenzhen China that are well equipped to manufacture BitLock. As soon as the project is successfully ended, I will be heading to Shenzhen China to inspect the identified factories in person and begin manufacturing the factory prototypes for quality control. We have also contacted our part suppliers to make sure they all have multiples of the necessary quantities in stock and will place the orders as soon as the funding goal is reached. We are also expanding our team of engineers to move faster on the software side and to make sure the software development process is fully pipelined with the manufacturing process.
- Mehrdad Majzoobi was beginning research about the possibility of controlling the bike´s lock with a mobile phone in 2011. After over a dozen fabrication classes at San Francisco’s TechShop, Majzoobi came up with the BitLock–an iPhone and Android-compatible U-lock that can be controlled with the click of a button.
There are a lot of difficulties along production:
STEP 1. Most of the hardware design process was centered around finding an efficient, compact, and secure locking mechanism. Using a solenoid was out of question. Solenoids are very power hungry and inefficient. The actuation system had be driven by a low power DC motor.
Linear actuation is messy. Worm gears (in fact all gears) must be enclosed inside a dust proof box enclosure to ensure reliability. Making custom gearing system would increase the cost and complicate the project.
The first prototype:
This was a starting point. The design had a lot of flaws. The load on the motor had to be minimal to save power. In this design the motor was doing a lot of unnecessary work (rotating the batteries too!).Also, the locking mechanism was not secure enough. More research and rigorous prototyping had to be done to get to the perfect lock.
STEP 1. Research.
After doing a lot of research, he eventual founds it! Disc locking was the best choice. It was simple and it provided high level of security. Putting the ideas together…
Things beginning to shape up. Now it was time to find the best DC motor. To find the perfect candidate, he had to search for a motor that yields the best performance, cost, and power characteristics.
When Mehrdad started this project, bluetooth low energy (BLE) was only in iPhone 4S. So he was looking all around to find a Bluetooth module that would support all smartphones. Soon he realized that the change is happening faster than he thought and switched to back BLE. BLE was the best option. It was cheaper, connectivity was fluid and easy, and most importantly it consumed very little power.
STEP 3. Design of a 3D model.
Later when he already had clear Motor would use and how it would work the bike lock, he began to make a 3D model.
STEP 4. Load the firmware
STEP 5. Mehrdad was playing around with a rectangular design. He ran into a bunch design problems and decided to switch to tubular design.
STEP 6. 3D printing the compartments and iterating on the prototype
2. 15th October 2013 the project was finished and was published in Kikstarter in order to gain $120.000.
3. The project successfully raised its funding goal on 14th November 2013. To this day there are 1268 backers and has collected $127.228.
4. But it not finish, now he need to begin manufacture and run the software.
The app will also let you view the location where you last locked up your bike on a map (based on recording your smartphone’s GPS at the time), and get maps of your rides and activity data — such as average speed, distance pedalled and estimated calories burnt. Bundling lots of handy functions in one.
Through the application, users can create permission groups and add people as well as bikes to these groups. People with permission can check out virtual one-time keys to lock and unlock BitLock. BitLock owner can define a unique access policy for each group such as access time intervals and a geo-fence inside which bikes should be returned to.
On the theft/security front, BitLock’s makers claim the lock’s reinforced, heat-treated and cut-resistant steel “cannot be defeated using any kind of bolt cutter or hacksaw”. While the digital keys are covered by banking-grade encryption. The lock is also designed to resist the weather, with internal electronics sealed and waterproofed and able to operate “under an extended temperature range”.