The past few years have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of smartphone thefts in major cities around the world, thanks to GPS tracking and the "kill switches" installed in many phones in 2013. And thanks to innovations such as a new "smart pedal," we could also soon see a similar drop in thefts of another frequently stolen item: the city bike.
Connected Cycle, a French startup, premiered its pedal at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. The pedal — which actually comes in a set of two for bike aesthetics, even though only one is connected — can be fitted onto a bike in less than two minutes, but requires a special coded key that only the owner has in order to remove it. It generates its own energy as the owner rides the bike, so batteries are not an issue.
Each pedal is fitted with GPS and a SIM card to relay data to an app on the owner's smartphone. Through this app, the owner is alerted immediately if someone attempts to move the bike (by detecting movement, shaking, etc.) In the event the owner can't get to the bike in time to prevent theft, the app will show him or her the bike's location, which he or she can then share with law enforcement. And because statistics show most bike thefts are never even reported to police, a bike with a tracking pedal could incentivize the owner not to write off the loss.
The pedal promises to do more than just help prevent theft and find stolen bikes, however. The same GPS capabilities will help the owner keep track of where the bike is at all times — helpful for forgetful cyclists — as well as track daily calories, speed, route, and incline. "The fitness tracking element of this product concept is really interesting," says Ruth Thomson, Head of Consumer Product Development at Cambridge Consultants, who works with companies like Adidas and the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. "A common complaint with body-worn activity trackers is that they don't pick up cycling movement, and so the person doesn't get the 'credit' for this type of activity."
As far as timeline goes, Connected Cycle says they are embarking on a crowdfunding campaign in spring of 2015, with hopes to bring the pedal to market by the end of the year. No details on price have yet been announced, but with bikes being such a large investment, the peace of mind the pedal could bring to cyclists who rely on their bikes on a daily basis might be worth the higher price point Thomson is forecasting. "Amateur cyclists do spend significant money on accessories, and would be the target for this product, however this will not drive the large volumes which would bring down cost," she predicts.
Thomson sees a few areas that could be a challenge for this pedal, including the prototype's range of bright colors. "If the novelty of the pedal is very overt, it will be a clear signal to a thief that this bike is worth stealing! So it may be worth considering if the pedal design should blend in with the bike so that it is not overtly 'different.'" She also points out that the success of this product is fully dependent on the security of the pedal's special key system. "A system is only as strong as its weakest point," Thomson says. "It's important to remember that if the thief can detach the pedal, they will."
Bike thefts are a real problem, especially in major cities — one recent survey in Montreal showed half of cyclists have experienced a bike theft, and that only 2.4 percent of stolen bikes are recovered, so it's clear that bikes are a prime candidate for theft-deterring trackers. With innovations like the smart pedal, maybe in a few years a nice new bike could become a far less risky investment.