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A High-Tech Bike Lock That Can Let Strangers Take a Ride


A High-Tech Bike Lock That Can Let Strangers Take a Ride

Photograph by James Hardy/PhotoAlto

Franz Salzmann’s bike had just been stolen. His friend, Daniel Zajarias-Fainsod, had found his own bike filched two days earlier. Over coffee, the friends and students at Oxford University decided it was time to build a better bike lock. “We were very annoyed,” says Salzmann. “Locks today are so bad!”

That was in 2012. After extensive research on bike-theft techniques and existing locks, the entrepreneurs have introduced their solution: Lock8, a keyless smart lock with a GPS tracker, motion and temperature sensors (in case a burglar tries freezing the lock), and a “painfully loud” alarm that goes off if someone cuts the lock cable or so much as moves the bike.

When the alarm goes off, users receive a push notification to their smartphones. The movement sensor can be adjusted to be more or less sensitive so simple jostling won’t unnecessarily trigger the alarm.

To build the first prototypes, Salzmann and Zajarias-Fainsod, both now 28, abandoned their previous careers. Salzmann, an Austrian, had worked in private equity for Deutsche Bank before going to study European history at Oxford, while Zajarias-Fainsod, from Mexico, is a medical doctor. They next secured a seven-digit sum, largely from Christophe Maire, an angel investor who has backed the likes of SoundCloud and gate5.

Lock8 comes with a specially wired cable, so bikes can be physically locked onto bike racks. But it also works on its own. Locking and unlocking the device requires just a swipe of the finger on your smartphone. And if you lose your phone? “Any phone can unlock it,” says Salzmann. “Just download the app, type in your password.”

Since anyone with a password can unlock your bike, users could theoretically share their bike with friends and family—or even rent it to strangers. “[It's a bike rental] platform that is scalable for everyone,” says Salzmann. “Without docking stations, without anything—people can just buy one lock and become part of a platform. Everyone. Hotels, hostels, bike shops, anyone who has a bike to rent.”

Similar to car-sharing programs like Car2Go, Lock8 could conceivably serve as the basis for a bike-sharing service where users look up the available two-wheelers online, find the nearest rental bike, and pay for the key. “Like an Airbnb for bicycles,” reads a Lock8 press release. In other words, New Yorkers who deign to ride Citi Bike’s blue clunkers may eventually be able to choose from a much more diverse fleet—and all without the city-size infrastructure of docking stations built to make the program possible.

Lock8, which launched its Kickstarter campaign this week, plans to go into production in January and deliver its first locks to customers in the U.S. and Europe by May 2014. The lock, Salzmann says, will retail at around $150.

Cwinter
Winter is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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