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GNSS technology redefines shared and urban mobility in China

11 / 11 / 2020
Tiantian Qi
GNSS.asia Project Manager China
GNSS technology redefines shared and urban mobility in China
Industry Developments

This article explores the global trend towards sustainable mobility in the sharing economy by comparing the solutions for shared bike operations developed in Europe and Asia as well as analysing the role of GNSS in this emerging industry.

Shared bikes as one of the prominent cases of emerging shared mobility

Bike-sharing seemed poised to become the solution for some of the worst traffic gridlocks in the world, including the ones occurring in Chinese metropolises. In the last five years, millions of bikes were poured into China’s streets by private companies. At its peak, there were 70 bike-share operators in the country1. In Shanghai and Beijing alone, 1.1 million and 2.3 million shared bikes respectively were in circulation in October 20172. However, this explosion of the shared mobility industry comes with its own challenges for urban management and planning. Unused units are piling up in bicycle graveyards, parked bikes are blocking streets and sidewalks, and user complaints about insufficient bike availability at their location are not disappearing. The integration and use of GNSS technology and services have been identified as a viable solution for improving shared bike management and efficiency. Also, Amid the COVID-19 pandemic with an increasing number of commuters shifting away from public transport to more individual modes of transport, the industry will likely see an uptick in the business activity.

GNSS-enabled new urban shared bike schemes in China

The use of GNSS in shared bikes offers users a novel experience based on improved operations and more precise positioning data. With the help of high-precision GNSS, information on the positioning of bikes can be determined in real-time and with centimetre-level accuracy. This allows bike-sharing companies to effectively control the flow of traffic and solve the problem of vehicle accumulation by forecasting the demand for each served area. Such estimations enable bike-sharing companies to send intelligent vehicle scheduling instructions like “filling the gap in vehicle demand in specific areas” to road operation and maintenance teams3 and thus considerably reduce the associated costs. Additionally, to limit the parking of an excessive number of bikes in and around one single parking site, users need to be guided to designated parking areas which can be supported by GNSS technology. The full value-added of the GNSS technology becomes particularly apparent when looking into the technological innovations released by the big players of China’s shared mobility industry.

The three biggest players: Hellobike, Qingju, and Meituan Bikes

Hellobike, one of the biggest bike-sharing platforms in the country connected its bikes to GNSS. Qingju Bike, another major player alongside Hellobike, equipped its Geographic bikes with high-precision navigation chips as well. The third big player in the shared bike domain in China, Meituan Bikes (formerly Mobikes), uses GNSS high-precision positioning and RTK differential positioning technology to perform positioning calculations and compensation to ensure the stability and accuracy of the positioning service. In addition, to enable standardised parking, Meituan combined the GNSS module with the map fence display so that the lock can only be operated after confirmation is done via the App4. Besides, Meituan has integrated Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon for precise positioning in areas where the GNSS signal is weak. Based on the first estimations, the positioning reliability of this technology is at the 95% success rate for the sub-meter level of accuracy5. Meituan is the first company in the industry to obtain a patent authorisation from the State Intellectual Property Office for precise positioning algorithms.

GNSS-enabled new urban mobility schemes in Europe

At the same time, Europe saw the rise of its own batch of bike-sharing companies such as oBike, GobeeBike, and LimeBike offering new GNSS-enabled urban mobility schemes. An array of applications began to be developed around bike sharing, smart bike riding, and emergency detection for bike riders. For example, BikePredict is a mobile application that makes self-service bike riding easy by providing both real-time information on the number of available bikes and docks as well as accurate estimations for the near future. “What is unique about our product is that we can predict where the bikes are going to be located,” says Chief Marketing Officer Clement Collignon. “As a user, you can log onto our app and see that there’s a 90 % chance of finding a bike or an open parking spot at a particular bike station in 30 minutes, which lets the user better plan their route.

The app works similarly for the self-service bike operators, telling them how many bikes are docked where. “Trucks have to move bikes from station to station in order to rebalance the system, and this is a fairly significant cost to the operator,” says Collignon. “With BikePredict’s redistribution function, we estimate that we can help operators reduce the costs by up to 25%.”

Likewise, Bike Citizens organised an event to show off how GNSS technology can benefit urban cyclists. The innovative app, which was designed by bike couriers, uses positioning information to guide users towards cycle paths and away from busy streets. There’s even no need to look down at the map since Bike Citizens provides voice prompts for when and where to turn – meaning you can always keep your eyes on the road. “Not only does it create the most efficient and bike-friendly route, the app will also provide information on points of interest as you ride,” says company Business Advisor Paul Mayer. “And our pre-packaged, themed routes – designed by local cyclists – are the perfect way to explore a new city.”

The app is already available in multiple cities worldwide. Furthermore, the company shares the data it collects via the app with research projects aimed at improving urban cycling. Together with municipalities and companies, the Bike Citizens team designs, develops, and promotes an array of tools to help cities promote urban biking. As a result, GNSS shared mobility applications support sustainable urban planning in Europe and as services mature, so will urban sustainability to the benefit of citizens in Asia and Europe.

Conclusion

Bike-sharing is a promising and rather nascent wave that has the potential of helping achieve the much-desired sustainability of urban mobility in both Asia and Europe. Without a doubt, the path towards the well-functioning system is not an easy one and requires innovative solutions from all key players involved. This is where GNSS technology comes into play enabling the development of various value-added applications that support a strong and healthy industry while serving society and better protecting our nature.

*This article includes republished content provided by the European GNSS Agency (GSA) (https://www.gsc-europa.eu/news/i-want-to-ride-my-gnss-enabled-bicycle-3)

References:

1) Hello Travel announces that its shared bicycles are fully adapted to BeiDou

http://www.tynews.com.cn/system/2020/06/23/030227238.shtml

2) “Beidou + shared bicycle” high-precision positioning service for tens of millions of civilian markets

http://www.takungpao.com/finance/236137/2020/0624/466698.html

3) Beidou has been widely used in shared bicycles, and the three major bicycle platforms have been connected

http://invest.beijing.gov.cn/tzbj/tzxm/ssmtjxyxw/202006/t20200623_1931013.html

4) https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/12/31/a-billion-bicyclists-can-be-wrong-china-business-bikeshare/

5) https://www.scmp.com/tech/apps-social/article/3091368/chinas-bike-sharing-platforms-connect-beidou-satellite-navigation

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