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Social Bikes inks deal with AT&T to stalk pedal-pushers

Networking the bike, not the rack

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Vid AT&T will be providing connectivity to push bikes from Social Bikes, enabling bike-share schemes to operate without dedicated big racks by tracking every mile peddled.

Despite failing as a Kickstarter project, and only finishing the prototype bike four months ago, Social Bicycles (or SoBi as they prefer to be called, though try to say it as one word) reckons it will be launching in three US cities this year, and has signed with AT&T to provide connectivity to track every bike on its network.

The bikes have a built-in locking system to fix them to any regular bike rack. Users will be able to find, reserve and unlock bikes through a mobile app – which means they can pick them up and drop them off anywhere... though we can imagine the bikes all piling up in just a few hotspots as the user has the choice of dropping them off anywhere that has a bike rack.

Bike share has become increasingly popular in cities around the world, not only providing cheap transport but also encouraging more bike riding in general. But building the dedicated racks is expensive: two or three grand a bike, according to SoBi. Most schemes use cellular networks to connect the racks, enabling real-time reporting of availability, but SoBi reckons standard racks can be used by fitting each bike with GPS hardware and a mobile phone connected to AT&T's network.

Social Bicycles Demo from Social Bicycles on Vimeo.

Not only that, but as every mile is tracked, the system can tell users how many calories they've burned, and the amount of CO2 they've saved - ideal for rubbing in the face of the smug bastard with the Prius.

Tracking also allows municipalities to police the zones within which the bikes can be used, billing customers who lock a bike outside the permissible area and rewarding the customer who returns the errant vehicle back to the fold.

Customers will need a mobile computer of some sort, ideally from Apple as shown in the video, but other platforms will be supported. Those without a smartphone, laptop or tablet will have to walk, unless they're within 15 minutes of a bike they can reserve from their desktop.

We're told the service will launch in three markets this year, including Buffalo and San Francisco, with more to follow in 2013, assuming the technology works, and isn't valuable enough to be worth stealing. ®

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