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Insert Coin: Social Bicycles bike sharing system (video)

Zach Honig

In Insert Coin, we look at an exciting new tech project that requires funding before it can hit production. If you'd like to pitch a project, please send us a tip with "Insert Coin" as the subject line.

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.

Gallery: Insert Coin: Social Bicycles Hands-On | 14 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.

Previous project update: Air Guitar Move for iPhone, our last Insert Coin project, has exceeded its funding goal of $25,000, thanks to a record-setting $20,000 donation from Red Bull. There's still 11 days remaining, so head over to Kickstarter for your own motion-sensing guitar pick.

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