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Robotics Could Be Parking Your Bikes

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

It’s fair to say that cycling has never been more popular than it is today, both as a means of keeping fit, a leisure activity, and as an alternative mode of transport as people around the world are becoming increasingly aware of the climate crisis and are using the bicycle to visit friends, shop, and commute to work.

The growing number of bikes on city streets has created a corresponding number of issues to resolve, such as making room for them on the communications and where to park them. There are so many bikes in use they would block sidewalks and most public car parking spaces have not yet adapted to bicycles.

One exciting high-tech solution that is being rolled out in cities around the world is a robotic parking system that stores bikes underground or vertically in towers. Robotic parking for cars is already catching on in some American cities and they have been around in China and Europe for some time. But bikes are a new addition to the market and their growing popularity has certainly created a demand for efficient solutions.

These systems have one commercial advantage that makes them attractive to city officials and investors: they don’t take up much space, which means there is more space for real estate developers to develop space. The advantage for cyclists is that they can leave their bikes safe and dry and, in some cases, they can also store their helmets, bags, and other cycling paraphernalia there. And the service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

BIKETOWER is the system used in Czech Republic.

A number of such systems already exists in the Czech Republic. The first one was built in Hradec Králové in 2012 and parked 52,000 bikes in three years. The system was then upgraded and fully launched in 2016. It is a hexagonal tower that stores 117 bikes at a time over seven tiers or floors. There is a small fee for the parking and the bikes are hung vertically on internal struts by a modified robotic stacker.

The company that built the system, Systematica s.r.o., has since constructed three more in the Czech Republic – in Přerov, Třinec, and Pardubice. In Přerov, the system collaborates with Czech Railways and cyclists who continue their journey by train can park their bicycles in the bike tower for free. The tower is connected to city cards and cyclists can check parking availability on a website. In Třinec, cyclists can pay by InKarta, the Czech Railways customer card, and they receive the first 24 hours of bike storage for free.

The (still) relatively low real estate prices in the Czech Republic make surface parking of cars and bikes feasible here. But in Japan, where real estate is almost as expensive as gold, engineers have had to find alternative solutions. The construction company Giken came up with a solution which parks hundreds of bicycles underground using a robotic system called Eco Cycle, which stores bikes in two 17-meter-deep bunkers in Jiyugaoka, near Tokyo. The system uses two robotic conveyor systems that can accommodate 144 bikes each. Check out the video to see how it works.

Finally, there is this concept (see photo below). A few years ago, it was entered into a competition that sought ideas, which would improve the cycling infrastructure of South Korea’s capital, Seoul. The modular system would make it possible to fit hundreds of bikes into the thin gaps in the urban fabric and it was designed to be human-powered by a pedal generator. The designers claimed that maintenance would only cost $15 a year. Sure, it’s not robotic but it certainly could be – and it’s interesting enough to mention.

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