It's been a year since we last heard about Social Bicycles (SoBi), the bike sharing concept that has potential to revolutionize the way we rent, ride, and lock bikes. Now the New York-based startup is working on a very promising second prototype, and is turning to Kickstarter for funding. The new version is still a few weeks out (that's a rendered version in the image above), but we pedaled over to SoBi HQ in Brooklyn to take a look at the first model, which is already far more efficient than systems we've seen implemented in Europe and select US cities, including Denver. Both versions feature a main rear-mounted lock unit, containing a U-lock, rear wheel immobilizer, GPS tracking chip, GSM modem, and a hub dynamo electrical generator. The new version's unit will be much more compact, two-thirds lighter, and will include an integrated solar panel for keeping the electronics powered up even when the bike isn't moving.
Insert Coin: Social Bicycles Hands-OnSee all photos
SoBi interfaces with a mobile app, which lets you locate and unlock unreserved bikes around the city (you'll use your PIN to control the lock during the reservation period). Users pay a monthly fee to subscribe, which will include an hour of free riding each day. The system implements a clever financial incentive to have bikes returned to strategically located hubs, charging a fee for users who prefer to leave bikes elsewhere, then offering the same amount as a credit for riders who rent that bike and return it to a hub. Because the SoBi will be a rental service and you won't be buying a bike to own, early supporters will receive a future credit in exchange for a Kickstarter donation. Donations of $50 or more also include a slick AR-enabled t-shirt, which displays a "3D" model of the bike on your mobile device. Jump past the break for a hands-on with the first Social Bicycle, and a behind-the-scenes look at the company's shared workshop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.