Flocking Bicycles: Autonomous Two-Wheeled Urban Mobility

1/17/2024 6:25:00 AM Hannah Wirth

Champaign County Bikes logoAcademic mentor: Juan Salamanca

Community partner: Champaign County Bikes

Project Description: 
In recent years, cities across the United States have upgraded their infrastructure to facilitate seamless travel over short to medium distances, particularly with the adoption of two-wheeled electric vehicles like electric bicycles, scooters, and seated scooters. This category, collectively known as micromobility, reflects a concerted effort to promote multimodal transportation options. Consequently, underserved neighborhoods now benefit from expanded or supplementary reliable commuting choices, and the affordability of short-distance freight logistics also improves. Furthermore, micromobility plays a crucial role in overcoming physical barriers and enhancing accessibility for individuals with challenges like aging or specific disabilities that may hinder their use of conventional bicycles.

The central question is whether a city can attract enough people to choose micromobility for commuting, contributing to significant environmental and social impacts, including meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets by replacing car rides or addressing barriers to accessing quality food and education in underserved communities. A central part of the solution involves ensuring easy access to micromobility vehicles, whether owned or rented. However, an often-overlooked element of successful automobile replacement is providing riders with a secure and pleasant travel experience facilitated by intelligent infrastructure. Car substitution encompasses integrating public transportation schedules with passenger routing and offering micromobility riders services equivalent to those available to car drivers.

In response, the principal investigator (PI) devised a micromobility system that connects city traffic controllers, micromobility riders, and metropolitan transit scheduling. This system features smart autonomous bicycles that assemble swarms of cyclists sharing similar routes, effectively transferring the coordination burden to electric vehicles. Riding together not only provides cyclists with a better and safer experience due to dedicated traffic lights. It also enhances visibility for car drivers.

Role of the Community-Academic Scholar:
During the summer of 2024, the PI will collaborate with a visiting researcher from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany, to evaluate the prototype of the smart autonomous bicycles on the UIUC campus. The Siebel Center for Design will host the visiting researcher and give him access to the prototyping facilities. The scholar will assist the team of researchers in recruiting participants, preparing the instruments for the experiments, assisting with the participant onboarding to the procedures, and collecting data and preliminary reports.