Verizon IoT, Swiftmile pilot smart bike-sharing in Santa Clara

Verizon Share Solutions' IoT tech to help with rentals of backhoes and golf carts

solar bikes
Swiftmile electric bikes, powered by solar panels, are lined up outside the headquarters of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority for employees to use for their commutes. In a pilot test, Verizon has connected the bikes, an app and the Swiftmile solar panels to its wireless 4G LTE network. Credit: Verizon

Verizon announced a pilot project with solar-powered bike-sharing company Swiftmile on Friday to aid commuters in Santa Clara County, Calif.

The Internet of Things-based pilot project is designed initially to help Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority workers use one of Swiftmile's four ebikes for short bike trips, including commutes from work to home and back again.

Next year, the project will be expanded to 80 bikes at the Stanford Research Park, according to Swiftmile CEO Colin Roche.

The transit authority first offered the Swiftmile bike service to its transit authority workers at Santa Clara headquarters a year ago, but until now, the bikes were not connected wirelessly or computerized. They have already been solar-powered to offer bicyclists the ability to move along electrically without peddling at up to 20 miles an hour.

Now Verizon has entered the game with its Internet of Things Share Solutions platform to provide 4G LTE connections to the bikes and the solar charging stations where they are parked. The bikes will include a smartphone-like computing capability and will transmit GPS and other data wirelessly to Swiftmile or its corporate customers.

Users will be able to reserve a bike via a Swiftapp on a smartphone and also receive information on their phone about the distance of their ride and the impact they've made in reducing carbon emissions. A billing capability is coming to the app eventually, but for now companies are deploying the ebike rentals to let their workers rent them for free as an alternative to driving, Roche said.

"It's like Zipcar, except you're renting an electric bike," he said in an interview.

Using proximity-correlation software designed by Verizon, a user will be able to unlock a reserved Swiftmile bike when his or her smartphone is near, by using the LTE network, Verizon said.

Gary Miskell, chief technology officer for the transit authority, said the ebikes encourage use of public transit to help reduce harmful carbon emissions. Having more urban mobility options can reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles on the roads, he said.

Cities around the globe see various IoT technologies as providing alternatives to auto congestion.

In the next two years, Roche said he hopes to work with Verizon to bring Swiftmile to college campuses and cities.

The bike-sharing concept is not new, but Roche said Swiftmile is unique in offering smart bikes that are 100% end-to-end powered by renewable solar energy. In September, bike-sharing company Motivate teamed up with Ford to expand bike-sharing in the San Francisco Bay area, allowing a 10-fold increase in the number of bikes, which will be renamed Ford GoBikes.

Swiftmile, a startup created in 2015 that now employs 10, is part of Verizon Ventures, an arm of the communications giant that works with entrepreneurs in emerging technology sectors. Swiftmile is receiving Verizon seed money in addition to having won a $250,000 prize from Verizon in 2015, Roche said.

In addition to bike-sharing, Verizon has set up other share programs to help construction companies rent out heavy equipment on demand and for recreation companies to rent out outdoor equipment to active consumers, said Paul Bedard, associate director business development and strategic planning for Verizon IoT.

Two years ago, Verizon announced its Auto Share service as part of its IoT Connected Solutions division.

Since the time that Auto Share was first introduced, Verizon has built the IoT Share Solutions platform to cover a range of objects that can be reserved and rented from a smartphone. "We've evolved beyond Auto Share, which was just passenger vehicles. Share Solutions is re-imagining sharing to enable the sharing of anything, from backhoes to things consumers want for recreation -- like a golf cart," Bedard said in an interview.

Verizon, as well as AT&T and other wireless service providers, have steadily expanded their capabilities and revenues in wirelessly enabling internet of things technology over the past 18 months. Their services are aimed at transportation, agriculture, energy and other industries.

Verizon's recent investments in startups in IoT and related areas include Monday's announcement to acquire LQD WiFi, which sells 15-foot kiosks that can be placed on city sidewalks to provide Wi-Fi hot spots.

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