Over the last few years, American cities have started to take cyclist infrastructure seriously. New ridership has bloomed in some unlikely places. That’s also coincided with the exponential growth of self-tracking wearables, like the Fitbit. Velo Labs, a startup founded by two former aerospace engineers, proposes adding some of those features to a stainless steel lock–one that can alert the owner to attempted theft, identify itself by GPS on a map, notify friends in the event of a crash, and unlock itself based on the proximity of the owner.
But those fancy features take second place to Jack Al-Kahwati’s and Gerardo Barroeta’s main goal: For their product, the Skylock, to act like a peer-to-peer bike share network. Add your boyfriend as an administrator of Skylock through its companion app, and he can borrow the bike at any time (though you might want to set up some boundaries).
Will it be practical? Lots of “smart” devices only end up quantifying someone’s junk drawer. A study that came out earlier this year showed that a third of people who buy wearables ditch them within the first six months. And at $249, many times the price-point of most typical, mechanical locks, Skylock seems to be asking for quite a lot.
Then again, Skylock is already a lock–even if you disable all its fancy optimization features, it’ll still work like the one you’d buy for $30 on eBay. At least it’s already useful without hooking up to the “Internet of Things.” And if a person can really manage schedules with another user or two, multiple people could go in on the cost.
The other test of the lock will be to see how sensitive it is to crashes and some light jostling on the sidewalk bike dock. Al-Kahwati says that Skylock’s crash system actually syncs the accelerometer on the lock to the one on your phone, so it can tell whether you get hit by a bus and go flying. Otherwise, a user would be able to adjust the sensitivity of the anti-theft alerts. Eventually, Al-Kahwati imagines that the lock would be able to text its owner with more granular details about what’s going on: “I’m being groped by someone locking their bike up next to me, but it’s cool,” versus, “Someone is trying to hack me apart with a band saw.”
The good news about a $249 lock is that it runs on exceptionally low power. Its battery will last eight months, and it also includes a backup solar panel that can translate one hour of sunlight into one week of power. The idea is that Skylock owners would never need to charge it.
Seems like something biking elites could get into. Whether it sticks with the rest of the population is the trial that every other “smart” device is trying to overcome. But Velo Labs is shooting for something bigger than just device sales. “We’d like to position ourselves as the largest, flexibly distributed, peer-to-peer bike share network in the world,” Al-Kahwati says. “And we think Skylock would be the perfect intermediary to Airbnb their bikes.”