NEXT CYCLE

An App to Thwart Bike Thieves

noa-jesse lash-noa
It all started in a garage.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Inadequate public transport is a huge problem in many areas of the car-centric and traffic-jammed United States.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • At some Silicon Valley firms, up to 80 percent of bicycle fleets are stolen or vandalized.
    • LinkedIn ordered 250 bicycles with Noa tracking software, which includes sensors and an app to pinpoint the bike’s location.
    • The technology arose from the German-British startup Lock8, which failed while developing a bicycle lock in Berlin.
  • Audio

    Audio

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A marketing guru couldn’t have planned a better way to introduce a new product.

When thieves broke into a startup business operated out of a garage, they stole sunglasses, laptops, bicycles and a car. They also took a product the startup was developing — software that can show the location of networked objects.

Just days before introducing its new tracking software to market, the tiny firm Noa — formerly called Lock8 — provided proof of its product’s potential. A few hours after the break-in, company founder Philipp Meyer-Schmeling and his team were able to locate the criminals along with their loot, and made sure that police arrested them.

“The bicycle not only knows where it is but also what’s happening with it. Along with location data, our sensors measure air quality and ozone concentration. ”

Jason van der Schyff, technician

Mr. Meyer-Schmeling’s startup has 40 employees and offices in Berlin and San Francisco. The 36-year-old doesn’t actually want to chase criminals but reinvent bicycling in the car-obsessed United States. In California, home to self-proclaimed idealists out to change the world, he thinks a new vision for the future is needed.

“It’s crazy that Silicon Valley gets all excited about autonomous vehicles and high-speed transportation systems such as Hyperloop, while local public transport remains a huge problem,” Mr. Meyer-Schmeling said.

That, he argues, causes miles-long traffic jams and angry drivers. Some big tech companies even drive their employees around in buses, because so few public transportation alternatives exist.

Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and LinkedIn have meanwhile switched to bicycles on their own premises, a hip and uncomplicated way of getting around. Google’s four-colored bicycles are an icon of Silicon Valley.

But the techies’ passion for bikes also creates problems. Many are stolen. At some firms, up to 80 percent of bike fleets are stolen or vandalized. Google often finds its bicycles off its Mountain View campus, in neighboring Palo Alto or sometimes 30 miles away in San Francisco.

The losses for companies are enormous, according to Michael Alba, transportation manager at the social network LinkedIn, more than half of whose 9,000 employees work in Mountain View.

“Our first fleet consisted of simple bicycles without security features,” he said. “Within the first year and a half, we lost almost all of them.”

LinkedIn has opted for Noa’s solution, ordering 250 bicycles along with tracking software. Instead of distributing easy-to-break bicycle locks, the company is counting on tracking as an effective technological solution.

“The GPS is integrated into the bike frame and therefore watertight,” Mr. Alba said.

The result can been examined in Noa’s offices, where a bike in bright Google colors leans against the wall amid surfboards, a soldering station and 3D printer.

In Europe, Mr. Meyer-Schmeling works with Germany’s largest bike maker, Derby Cycle. But in the United States, the startup is tinkering with its own production and looking for partners.

The technology consists of five different sensors. They weigh a few hundred grams and are hidden inside the frame for security reasons, according to technician Jason van der Schyff.

“Everything that looks like technology from the outside runs the risk of being stolen,” he said.

With an app, the user can pinpoint the bike’s location.

“The bicycle not only knows where it is but also what’s happening with it,” Mr. van der Schyff said. “Along with location data, our sensors measure air quality and ozone concentration.”

The data is managed partly in the cloud and partly in the bike’s own processor, which functions autonomously and also records movements without an Internet connection. The bicycle only needs charging every three months.

Unlike Citi Bike, the largest bike-sharing operator in the United States, Noa doesn’t require a base station. The bikes can be parked anywhere users needs them, even in front of the office entrance. And in the future, it will also be possible to reserve and pay for the bikes through the app.

Investors are impressed with the technology, developed by the German-British startup Lock8, which failed trying to produce a new bike lock in Berlin.

Investors include Ulrich Otto, who made his fortune through recycling and is a close adviser to Mr. Meyer-Schmeling. Another backer is the Chinese industrial magnate Li Ka-Shing, the eighth-richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

 

Britta Weddeling covers Silicon Valley for Handelsblatt. To contact her: weddeling@handelsblatt.com

 

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