Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Atlanta, a bike share innovator?

I heard "through the grapevine" that Bike Emory would be having an event today to announce their bike-share partnership with Georgia Tech. I was intrigued. Emory has had a bicycle share program for maybe a year now. It's very basic - you go to a desk, show your Emory ID and sign a form, and they give you a key. Georgia Tech does not have a program, and as far as I knew, didn't plan to start one.

Well, it turns out that Emory was in the market for some new bike-share technology. It's notoriously difficult. You have to have ways to track your customers, track your bikes, prevent theft and vandalism, and make sure that customers can find and use the bicycles pretty reliably. Many universities have tried and failed. City-wide systems are catching on but having problems with the equipment. The cost is prohibitive for many potential programs.

Well, these were merely challenges to be overcome for the engineers of Georgia Tech. At Emory's request, they invented entirely new technology. A simple black box mounts on the bicycle. It contains a GPS unit, cell phone, and a device which can latch and release a cable lock. You simply send a text message to the bicycle you want to use, and the lock magically unlocks itself. The box can even call for help if its battery runs low or if it experiences tampering
The equipment was mounted on two practical city bikes from Breezer. They had dynamo lights, fenders, internal gears, a chain guard or case, and a proper step-through frame. The only thing that concerns me is the location of the black box - would the rider's heel strike it?
The event was well attended by current and would-be bicyclists. After giving everyone time to look at the bikes, the project developers made a short presentation. The main purpose of the event was to announce that the project had won a Ford College Community Challenge grant. This award provides critical funding to expand the new technology into a functional automated bicycle share program. The program should be running on Emory's main campus by this summer. If all goes well, it will be expanded to their satellite campuses, to Georgia Tech (yay!), and eventually to surrounding neighborhoods.


  1. Holy moly! How'd I miss this event? This is brilliant. Georgia Tech could greatly benefit from bikes to help people get to/from the nearby MARTA stations. I ride my own bike most days, but sometimes I get lazy and take the train instead. That 15 minute walk from the station to campus is the most annoying part of the trip. I hope they plan to place bicycles somewhere that'd make them easy to access from the stations.

    Thanks brilliant engineers. Can't wait until it's up and running on the GT campus.

  2. I know, it's always the one day that I take the train in, that I unexpectedly need to go to the other side of campus or run an errand. Then I walk along grumbling about how much faster it would be by bicycle... If they had them at MARTA, Tech Square, the student center/library area, and the fitness/rec center, oh, life would be so much easier!

  3. Hi there. I'm one of the engineers of the mentioned program (we're calling it viacycle) at GT. Thanks for attending the event. If anyone wants more information, you can contact us at info@viacycle.com .

    we should have a website running soon, but until then, email will have to do.


  4. Hi,

    Thanks for attending the event and for the great writeup! We were really grateful that it was so well attended, good to know that some local cyclists were there. A few of us on the viaCycle team are also avid ATL bikers. The MARTA issue is spot on... it's great when you're on the train, but the low station density is killer.

    It's great to hear that you had a good impression of the lock. Although the box is actually less intrusive during pedaling than one might think, we realize it could stand to be a bit smaller... we're working on downsizing before we deploy units at Emory.

    If you have any more questions or want to give more feedback, shoot us an email at info@viacycle.com. We'd love to stay in touch with Tech students and other Atlantans, since the project is aimed at helping the city. Sounds like you know your way around Tech, are you a student as well?

    Thanks again for your support!


  5. Hello engineers! You've got a very promising product there, and there are a lot of people who are interested. Other people in the audience on Tuesday included the state bicycle coordinator, the GT bike program manager, and the director of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

    I would like to stay informed about the project and keep other Atlanta cyclists informed as well. Or help out if you need to test the equipment or hold a focus group. I work at Tech and bike to work 3 or 4 days each week.

  6. great inventions for cycling, humanity is looking to achieve a clean transport of pollutants gaces what better way than an electric bike I have a friend who had to undergo a sprain treatment for skating