We’ve likely all been there — that near-universal moment of pure, unadulterated consternation: You step out into a sprawling, jam-packed parking lot or garage and haven’t the slightest where you left your car. Absolutely no idea. Zero clue. Nothing. Nada.
And so, you begin to wander, guided by a vague recollection of where you think but aren’t entirely sure that you parked 8 hours ago before entering the front gates of Disneyland and exiting through the back gates of parking lot hell.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it doesn’t take long to be reunited with your car. Maybe you mentally noted a nearby landmark or are blessed with some sort of oracular faculty. Maybe you got lucky and were in close enough range for your car to identify itself with a quick toot of the horn via your remote keyless fob.
Other times, it takes a painfully long time.
Now, imagine this scenario but with bicycles, not cars.
In Amsterdam, a city where bicycles outnumber both cars and generally contented residents, the bike parking situation has been painted as one hot, chaotic mess. There’s simply not enough places to store all of the city's bicycles.
Too many bicycles you say? In the scheme of things, it’s certainly not a bad pickle to be in … but it’s a pickle nonetheless.
And so, Amsterdam’s public bike parking shortage has left city leaders scrambling to find quick and creative solutions in a city where age, size, density and a grid that's both concentric and canal-centric have all proven to be formidable obstacles. In the meantime, locating one’s bike in a vast sea of spokes remains a unique challenge for Amsterdam residents — a “daily nightmare” as FROLIC studio puts it.
With the forgetful, the easily overwhelmed, the impatient and those with non-elephantine memories in mind, the good folks at FROLIC studio put on their problem-solving caps and emerged with a solution that reimagines the possibilities of the humble bike bell. While it boasts the same standard shape and emits the same instantly recognizable metallic tinkle as your run-of-the-mill bike bell, the Amsterdam-based studio’s next-gen bike bell also benefits from added brains — an “elegant and simply solution that bring today’s technology to the tradition of a classic bell.”
Billed as the “first smart bicycle bell, the Pingbell is a bell that, true to its name, enables dazed and disoriented commuters to remotely ping their bikes from their smartphones.
Know that it’s somewhere close by but not entirely sure where?
Just open the corresponding Pingbell app (for iOS and Android), press the ping button … and voila! The bell rings itself, allowing you to hunt down a parked bike from a distance with your trusty old ears. As mentioned, Pingbell, which also functions as a conventional bell (something cyclists should have in the first place), emits a “normal” brass bell jingle — a sound described by FROLIC studio as a “rich, full sound that sounds much more authentic than an electronic beep.”
At night and in noisy and/or noise-sensitive situations where a visual beacon is more reliable than an auditory guidance, a pulsing light can replace the ringing.
And Pingbell users might not even have to even resort to remote ringing given that, thanks to Bluetooth Smart technology, the parked bike’s exact locale will appear on the app’s map. With this feature, users can lock and leave their bikes without having to retain any crucial information (i.e. where it’s parked). When users need to return to their 2-wheeled ride hours later, they can open the Pingbell app and it will guide them right to where they left it.
As for Pingbell’s built-in battery, a single charge can last up to one year and it can be re-charged via USB. And as for the issue of sticky fingers, this self-ringing lifesaver comes with tamper-proof screws and a custom screwdriver. While not totally theft-proof, Pingbell, smartly designed to blend in amongst “non-smart” bike bells, won’t exactly come off easily.
On the topic of theft, if the entire bike happens to be lifted you cannot track it via the Pingbell app as it moves away from its original location. While a pin is dropped on the app's map noting where the bike has been left after the user walks away from it, Pingbell is not equipped with full GPS for tracking.
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FROLIC studio is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to help usher the prototype Pingbell to the manufacturing stage, fully develop the app and bring this nifty little gizmo to market, with an anticipated ship date of July 2016. There's two weeks left to go and the early-bird deals have all been swallowed up. (Pre-orders now start at 45 euros).
While Pingbell was conceived in direct response to the continuing growth of Dutch bike culture, I can see envision this nifty little bit of tech coming in useful outside of Amsterdam in other bike-dense cities across Europe. Perhaps this brainy bells will come in handy in some North American cities, too, although you'll be hard-pressed to find a bike parking situation like this outside of the Netherlands. (One can wish).