Thousands of hire bikes are increasingly clogging up European cities. In order to put an end to the parking chaos, it could soon be possible to call them to you in the future.
Anyone who spends time in European cities these days will often have to fight their way through huge numbers of shabby-looking bikes from a “smart” bike sharing platform from Asia. The company Obike from Singapore alone has 7,000 bikes, many of them broken, spread all over Munich clogging up the city streets. It works like car sharing: the bikes can be found on streets, in parks, hanging in trees or in bushes. There are no fixed hire centers and unlike with hire cars, opportunities for parking are unlimited which means that users really use their imagination when parking the bikes.
Many people treat the new “city residents” fairly roughly and some even develop a real hatred of the bikes. As a result, the local “mobility partners” who are responsible for maintaining, repairing and redistributing the bikes appear to be fighting a losing battle.
Intact autonomous bikes
A team made up of mechanical engineers, IT specialists, logistics experts and environmental psychologists from Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg could very well have found a solution to the problem. Their autonomous e-bike will soon be able to navigate its way to the user independently on request. As a result, a fleet of electric hire bikes could enhance public and individual local transport in an environmentally friendly, low-cost manner.
The bikes would be called to any location via an app and would then return independently to a central depot after use. With configurable attachments, simple loads such as children or pets could also be transported.
A prototype will be tested on the roads in Magdeburg in the next few weeks. As with autonomous cars, the challenges lie in error-tolerant environmental monitoring. The wheels must be able to avoid obstacles such as cars, pedestrians or rubbish bins standing around – whatever the weather. Like their four-wheel counterparts, they need GPS, cameras and radar/laser scanners in order to do this.
Evidently, the differences between macro and micromobility are fairly small. Both require numerous engineering, business, social and human decisions. For example, an effective routing system which makes it possible to cross a busy road without traffic lights poses considerable challenges from a technical, legal and perceptive point of view.
The scientists hope to permanently reduce accident figures, achieve greater convenience and increase traffic efficiency through the project. From 2020, Magdeburg could become a pioneer when it comes to the use of small, environmentally friendly autonomous vehicles. Autonomous bikes which travel independently along Breiter Weg between the railway station and the university campus could then be an accepted part of city life.
The project is being subsidized by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and is part of the NekoS (Netzwerk kooperative Systeme) research project. Further information is available at http://www.nekos.exfa.de.