Another example of bicycles becoming smarter and more social: Social Bikes.

For those who aren't familiar with how these resource-sharing services typically work, check out our story about the technology behind Zipcar. In a nutshell, there are little car lots (or in the case of B-Cycle, a company that will soon deploy shared bikes in Chicago, bike stations) located all over a city that are locked when not in use. A user can make a reservation online for a car or bike and then pick it up at the designated time.

There is no human interaction required: once the mode of transportation is reserved, the user identifies him or herself to the car or bike either by RFID (Zipcar) or PIN at the cycle station (B-Cycle), which then unlocks the car/bike. When the user is done, he or she returns the vehicle to the same lot so that others can make use of the car. For B-Cycle, users can return bikes to any B-Cycle station, not necessarily the one they rented from.

The SoBi system follows a similar path, but the technology is a bit more advanced than that of services like B-Cycle…. For one, there are no cycle stations: SoBi bikes are parked all over the city (starting in New York City) at regular old bike racks. This means that bikes could, in fact, be anywhere at any given time, and not just at a designated station that could be blocks away. You can pick up any bike that's not already reserved, and drop it off anywhere without having to hunt down a drop-off station….

Like a Zipcar, each SoBi bike is equipped with its own "lockbox" that communicates wirelessly with the SoBi servers via GPS and a cellular receiver (an H-24 module from Motorola, Rzepecki told Ars). When you make a reservation online or via smartphone, you see a map of all the bikes in the area based on their GPS data and are given the option to unlock a specific bike when you click on it….

Since the lockbox contains a GPS module, a cell chip, and a lock that works with a PIN pad, there has to be some way to power it. The SoBi team is still working out the kinks in power consumption, but plans to power the devices with a hub dynamo on the bike's rear wheel. The lockbox is essentially powered by your pedaling—no charging stations required.

[thanks, Heather]