U-Rack Bike Lock Storage System & App
A simple, modular, expandable, bike storage system for student cyclists.
I was responsible for research, brainstorming, and building the prototype.
Student cyclists on Georgia Tech’s campus.
Bike racks are crowded at peak times in certain locations. For example, the bike racks at the Student Center are full during class times, but the bike racks at the dorms are full in the evenings.
A modular, expandable bike storage system that is visible only when needed.
Bike storage availability at the Clough Undergraduate Learning Center (CULC) varies throughout the day.
Photo on left: Courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology
We conducted a broad-level, unstructured interview with a couple of members of the Georgia Tech Police Department to discuss cyclist safety. A few days later we spoke with the GTPD Crime Analyst about the specific instances of bicycle theft.
Through these interviews, we learned about the prevalence of bicycle theft on Georgia Tech’s campus, including reasons for theft, locations of frequent theft, bike registration, crime prevention implementations, and ways to locate stolen bicycles.
While GTPD has many initiatives to prevent bicycle theft, they have very few options to locate a bicycle (or bicycle parts) once the bike has been stolen. Additionally, the registration process allows for vague details to be entered or skipped, resulting in an inconsistent registration process. For example, a student can register a “black road bike” without including any other identifying information or even the serial number, which is vital in locating a stolen bike.
We surveyed 25 student cyclists at bike storage locations near the Student Center, CULC (main undergraduate classroom building), Campus Recreation Center, dining halls, and dorms. The survey questions included how safe students feel riding their bikes on and around campus, how safe students feel parking their bikes on campus, how satisfied students feel with the lock options on the market, how satisfied students feel about the bicycle storage facilities on campus, what type of lock they use, if they feel there is a problem with bicycle theft on campus, and if they know anyone who has had a bike stolen within the past year.
- 6 out of 25 students had or knew of someone who had a bike stolen in the past year
- 4 out of 25 students thought that bike theft was an issue on campus
- 3 out of the 6 students surveyed who knew of a stolen bike still did not think that bike theft was an issue. These students had excuses, such as
- “Oh, it was my roommate’s fault for not locking his bike.”
- “He left it out for over a week during hell week [the week before final exams].”
Since students did not perceive bike theft to be an issue, we began to rethink the issues faced by our target group.
Next we used a semi-structured interview format to interview 10 student cyclists. We asked questions about how often students ride their bikes, where they lock the bikes during the day and night, how they protect their bike, how they feel about the current storage facilities, and if they have ever had an experience with bike theft. Of those students who had experienced personal bike theft, we asked an additional set of questions such as how the theft occurred, how the bike was locked, how the theft was reported, and their perceptions of how GTPD handled the recovery of the stolen bike.
Illegal Storage Alternatives
Students improvised a variety of illegal parking options for their bikes.
Interesting Storage Techniques
From left to right:
One student who had three bikes stolen resorted to a double lock (u-lock with an added coil lock) with a note; another student removed the bicycle seat to discourage theft; the last student improperly used the double lock, resulting in a lock that can be easily cut.
General themes from affinity diagram:
- difficulties maneuvering in traffic (pedestrian and automobile)
- storage redesign
- prevention and subversion of theft
- lack of confidence in GTPD processes
This helped us to solidify our problem space based on cycling in pedestrian/car traffic and storage redesign.
Task analysis of typical day using a bike on campus.
To better understand the problem space, we performed a competitive analysis of products currently on the market. We studied products relating to bike locks, bike storage systems, methods for cyclists to make themselves more visible to cars, and navigation tools. We looked at what these products did well and where they fell short in terms of meeting users’ needs.
Personas were used to focus the user needs & designs.
Brainstorm ideas were put in a Usability vs. Feasibility graph to select the best concepts.
Concept Sketches & Storyboards
The three best ideas were detailed further.
While a cyclist is riding his or her bike, a sensor will be used to alert pedestrians and cars that a bicycle is approaching. This sensor will use sound, light, or a combination of both to tell cars that a cyclist is advancing from behind. The sensor will also tell pedestrians that a bicycle is approaching from the back left and suggest that the students should move to the right. This sensor could be attached to the bike or it could be an innate part of the bicycle itself.
Storyboard Sketch: Horyun Song
Modular, Magnetic Storage
The Modular Bike Storage serves the goal of increasing bicycle storage around campus without obstructing foot traffic. It consists of two components. First, there is a strong, circular magnet that is implanted into the ground. Because it is below ground level, it will not impede pedestrians’ current walkways. Second, there will be a lock that is connected to the bike (similar to a futuristic U-lock). Bikers will be able to ride their bikes up to one of the circular magnets in the ground, and by using an app, will be able to secure the lock on their bike to the magnet on the ground. When they need to unlock the bike, they will simply unlock it using their phones or Buzzcards. When the locks are not in use, the bike rack will appear as a normal sidewalk without any protruding locks or racks that could obstruct pedestrian walking paths.
Lo-Fidelity Prototype: Victoria Chai
Storyboard Sketch: Horyun Song
The Biker Bubble was our outlandish, yet useful, idea to fully protect a cyclist. Ideally, this would protect the biker from pedestrians and cars so that no one could intercept the cyclist’s bubble. Whenever a pedestrian or car gets too close to the biker, the biker can throw out a soft punching glove to gently tap the car or person. This serves as a notification to those around the biker that there is a cyclist nearby, creating awareness of bikers while also preventing anything harmful from entering the bubble.
Sketch: Horyun Song
Storyboard Sketch: Horyun Song
Next we interviewed four “experts” related to the field of Georgia Tech and Atlanta cyclists. We showed our ideas to a Georgia Tech professor whose research revolves cycling in Atlanta, a Georgia Tech faculty member who works with landscaping and bike storage arrangements, a graduate student who works at a Georgia Tech organization that rebuilds abandoned bikes and sells them to Georgia Tech students, and a man who works at Performance Bicycle and is incredibly knowledgeable in various styles of bicycles.
These experts pointed out key flaws in some of our concepts that needed to be addressed. For example, the magnetic lock could affect people who are sensitive to magnets, not all bikes use a kickstand, and sometimes bikes need to be secured with multiple locks to prevent theft of only parts of the bike.
Due to practicality issues, we chose to abandon the Biker Bubble concept.
Again we refined our concepts based on feedback from experts in our problem space with a focus on modular/expandable bike storage. We each drew quick ideas and shared them with the team.
The ideas below involve bike racks that are stored in the ground and pop up when cyclists select specific locking locations. Metal u-locks included in the storage rack would be unlocked with a mobile phone app.
Other ideas involve storage that can be used with an existing u-lock that cyclists own. These concepts allow cyclists to use their locks away from the new storage system if the cyclists choose to leave campus.
Right Sketch: Horyun Song
We also pursued the idea of a new type of lock that could be used to “free lock” the bike without needing a bike rack.
Bottom Right Sketch: Horyun Song
We liked the bike storage that has two metal poles that lift out of the ground and a modified u-lock then fits onto two thin metal poles. Once concern with this concept is that it could be dangerous to have thin metal poles sticking out of the ground that people could potentially trip on. We particularly liked that the lock can be based on current locks that students own and can be used without the storage system if needed.
The second concept we preferred was the concept with the thicker metal poles that pop out of the ground because it takes up less space in the ground and it allows for multiple locks to be used to provide extra security for the bike frame and tires, elements that are most frequently stolen. A concern with this concept is that the angles of the holes that go through the poles must be carefully designed to allow for multiple configurations while still being secure.
For an app-based unlocking and locking system, we discussed a variety of ways that students could use the storage racks. We liked the idea of requiring students to register their bikes in the app’s system, which would be linked to Georgia Tech Police Department, so that bikes could be returned to their owners if stolen. The system could also tell the police how long a bike had been stored at a particular location.
The pilot test showed that users do not mind using a new type of lock for their bike as long as it is faster and easier than current u-locks. We will pursue app designs that require minimal steps. One comment from the pilot test was that there was no information about how to reveal the hidden bike racks that are stored underground. It may be helpful to users to have instructions on how to use the app.
Below is an option for a touch-screen based app where users select which bike rack they want to use. This can store the information and help users find the bike later. Also, if multiple locks are used, they can all be unlocked simultaneously using the app, which would make the process of unlocking two locks faster.
Based on user feedback, we knew that whatever system was used to unlock the bike needed to be much faster than current key and combination lock systems. We also learned about the problems that occur with inexpensive keys or old locks because the keys can become brittle and the lock can become jammed. One user even explained that it could take up to ten minutes to unlock her old u-lock.
We also learned that users sometimes forget where they park their bikes if they park in the same area everyday (front or back of an apartment) or if they leave their bike for an extended period of time (multiple days or weeks). This prompted us to decide to include a component of the app that could show or remind students where their bike is parked.
Medium-Fidelity Prototype & User Testing
Prototype 1 (left) & Prototype 2 (right)
Users seemed to prefer Prototype 2 because this rack give users more freedom to lock a variety of bikes.
The app screens were revised based on user feedback. The various sizes and opacities of location dots were confusing, so the screens to locate a bike rack were simplified. The standby screen now includes a reminder of how long the bike has been left. Additionally, there is a notification screen from GTPD to confirm that the bike has not been abandoned. The tamper alert screen was also modified to allow users to respond in case of accidental lock motion.
The refined prototype was made out of plywood, metal poles, and 3D printed lock. The lock had magnets imbedded in the surface (magnet idea courtesy of our classmate, Noah Posner (www.linkedin.com/in/noahposner) to simulate a realistic locking motion.
Overall, our users liked the concept of our system because it solved their need to find adequate storage on campus and did not require a physical key. Some participants felt like the system was a lot of effort to use. This could be in part because the prototype was not very robust and required a person to hold the bike rack in order to support the bike’s weight. Additionally, in a real-life situation, students would never need to perform each prototype-testing task (register their bike, lock their bike, and unlock their bike) right after the other.
I redesigned the app’s branding to reflect the target Georgia Tech audience, adjusted the hierarchy based on user needs, and changed the colors of the notifications based on severity while maintaining accessibility for color-blind users. Another round of testing will be conducted to see how easily this app can be used by student cyclists.