If you're riding a bike at Copenhagen's November 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference, you may be able to take advantage of some new 'Smart Biking' techology created by MIT - it will help you make friends with people you pass and even tells you how much CO2 you didn't use by taking a bike(1).

MIT researchers unveiled the project today called Smart Biking, aimed at transforming bicycle use in Denmark’s largest city, promoting urban sustainability and building new connections between the city’s cyclists.

The project utilizes a self-organizing 'smart-tag' system that will allow the city’s residents to exchange basic information and share their relative positioning with each other.

CLICK IMAGE FOR LARGER SIZE. This hybrid bicycle uses a regenerative motor to harvest the energy created when breaking and releases it while cycling, in a manner similar to hybrid cars. Everything, including the battery, is packed in the rear wheel, which becomes a self-contained element that could be retrofitted to most existing bicycles. Credit: Smart Cities Group at the MIT Media Lab, directed by William J. Mitchell.

“One of the most striking aspects of Copenhagen is that it is already a very sustainable city,” says Carlo Ratti, Director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, which is overseeing the Smart Biking project. “A considerable fraction of its energy comes from renewable sources and, unlike a few decades ago, 30 to 40 percent of its citizens use bicycles as their primary method of transportation.”

“So our challenge was, ‘How can we enhance these dynamics of sustainability? And how can we use technology to make them more widespread?’”

Beyond encouraging Copenhagen’s citizens to ride more often, the program aims to help them interact as well.

“We have developed a Facebook application called ‘I crossed your path,’ which creates a social network for cyclists, allowing them to link up with people they may have ridden past during the day and potentially establish new connections,” explains Christine Outram, the principal research assistant on the project.

The smart tags will also allow individuals to monitor the distance they travel while cycling, as part of a citywide “green mileage” initiative, which is similar to a frequent-flyer program. With the 'green mileage' scheme you could monitor how many miles you travel by biking and compare this with the CO2 emissions that you have not generated by taking the bus, a car or helicopter.

What will the reward for green miles be? “A year of free Muesli,” jokes SENSEable City Lab’s Associate Director Assaf Biderman. “In fact apart from any actual reward, the very act of sharing this information and showing individuals the environmental impact of their actions could be very powerful. Research has shown that behavioral change is one of the most important forces in tackling climate change and reducing carbon emissions.”

Ultimately, fine-grained monitoring of urban activities could allow cities such as Copenhagen to enter carbon-trading schemes. Cities could obtain funding for sustainable city projects in exchange for their efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions. The impact could be considerable, as cities account for approximately half of the world population, but are responsible for a much larger share of carbon emissions.

The Smart Biking Project is developed by the SENSEable City Laboratory, an MIT research group focused on technology and urban planning that is a part of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, together with the MIT Design Lab. In addition to professors Ratti and Mitchell, the team is comprised of Assaf Biderman, Francesco Calabrese, Michael Lin, Mauro Martino and Christine Outram.


(1) Vegetarians disagree and feel like the meat carnivores eat causes more greenhouse gases to be produced than just driving.