Most Swatties are no stranger to the Willets hill, missing the shuttle, or living off campus. With each of these experiences comes an intense walk — unless you have a pair of wheels on your side. For those who do not, Swarthmore’s new startup, Hivebike, wants to tackle these everyday issues through dockless bike sharing.
In the spring of 2012 and 2013, Swarthmore implemented a bike share program through McCabe that allowed students to rent out bikes, but ran into problems with management of the bikes and maintenance. Since then, there has been silence around bike sharing programs on campus — until a group of engineers created Hivebike, a dockless bike sharing program that uses geofencing — the use of GPS to define a geographic boundary — and QR code technology on existing bikes around campus to track and provide a new biking experience for the Swarthmore community.
The Hivebike team consists of the creator, Hunter Lee ’19, an engineering major and computer science and statistics minor, and his team, David Chang ’20, Letitia Ho ’19, Temba Mateke ’21, and Nathan Moreno-Mendelson ’20. They used their combined knowledge of people’s travel experiences across campus, the many abandoned bikes all over Swarthmore, and Lee’s summer in China to create Hivebike which they hope to have running trials of in Spring 2019.
While in China during Summer 2016, Lee experienced and used a wide variety of technologies from QR encoded credit card systems and vending machines to dockless bikes, the source of Hivebike’s creation. Dockless bike sharing is a craze that has taken over China and, slowly but surely, has popped up all over cities in the United States. As Lee experienced the ease of dockless biking in China, he thought to himself, why not bring that experience to Swarthmore?
“I was just going there for fun, but what I came back with was my mind blown by certain technologies in terms of how much it changed how people live. One thing was the bike. Everywhere you go in China, you see people riding these orange and yellow bikes that have the dockless biking technology. No one thought they would work at first, but they did. I came back and thought that maybe I could try something at Swarthmore,” Lee said.
Hivebike received unanimous approval for funding of $3090 from the SGO executive board on October 28, 2018. SGO was enthusiastic to be a part of a program that they felt was well thought out and demonstrated student needs.
“We were enthusiastic to fund the program because it’s among the most thought-out programs ever brought to SGO, with a fully-functioning prototype, and it has the potential to be a big [quality of life] improvement for students on campus,” SGO President Gilbert Orbea ’19 wrote. “SGO has the funds, the people power, and the enthusiasm to give life to this project and we’re thrilled that Hivebike wants even greater collaboration … this bike-share program serves demonstrable student need. There’s no reason you can’t fund it and every other great idea that’s out there, which is exactly what SGO has been doing.”
With the dockless bike sharing program, Lee wants to implement technology similar to what he used in China, which allows the bike users to unlock, lock, and park the bikes wherever they would like.
“Instead of having to leave it at a dock, imagine being able to unlock it on the bike itself. There would be a lock going through the wheel that is like a circular lock. Add some GPS, cellular, and Bluetooth technology, and you have a very smart lock that you can lock and unlock anywhere you please using your phone, but we want to go beyond that,” said Lee.
Rather than buy new bikes to apply this technology to, Lee wanted to utilize the many abandoned bikes found around Swarthmore’s campus.
“More than 90 percent of the time, bikes remain idle on campus and at the same time, there are too many bikes. For many reasons, students leave their bikes behind. There are at least 60 bikes in Pittenger’s basement and ML has bikes that have been there for years. It’s a problem that facilities, residential communities, and PubSafe want to address, so we are trying to solve the problem comprehensively, so instead of buying new bikes, we figured, ‘Why not use the ones just lying around?’,” Lee said.
The Hivebike team has worked for over a year to produce a fully functioning prototype which includes the actual bike and a free app that is used to unlock, lock, and track the bikes, called Taiga.
According to Lee, Hivebike will be controlled and accessed through Taiga. The app will be geofenced and every bike will have a QR code that you have to scan to unlock and lock the bikes. It is going to be connected to your Swarthmore email, so you need the swarthmore.edu address to use it. If you unlock a bike, it will be in “ride” mode, so they will know when and where everyone is using a bike. The system will not allow you to check out another bike until the previous one is locked and returned to the geofenced boundary of the campus.
The app, along with the actual use of the bikes, will be a free service for the Swarthmore community; however, students will be held accountable for abuse of the service.
“It will be free, thanks to sponsors at Swarthmore. But we will keep accountable those who abuse our services, including stealing or intentionally mistreating the bikes and parking outside the geofence,” said the Hivebike team.
While dockless bike sharing has increased in popularity in U.S. cities and even been implemented at college campuses such as Vanderbilt and UIUC, there have been instances of mistreatment, vandalism, and theft that have caused concern and failure with many companies and communities.
Hivebike has acknowledged the possibility of such dangers, as previously stated in the SGO email, but believe they can successfully implement their program into the Swarthmore community. As of now, the Hivebike is in what Lee called the “trial” phase, but the Hivebike team is still making efforts towards bettering the program for the future.
“We want to see if students appreciate the idea, and we really want students to get more involved in the service by renting out their bikes and being a part of the operations,” Lee said. “We hope to have 10 bikes ready by the time students get back next semester. It is going to be a lot of trial and error, but I’m looking forward to working with the community, so that we can get their guidance and create a program that benefits all of us.”
In just a few months, Lee and his team’s creation will be available for the Swarthmore community to try. The Hivebike team is hopeful that the bike sharing program will extend beyond next semester.