Problem Statement

The Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis spans 169 acres. The distance from the eastern-most building (Green Hall) and the western-most building (Athletic Complex), is roughly 1.26km. Furthermore, the majority of students live in university housing, ranging from 0.8km to 1.1km away. The sheer magnitude of the campus and its surrounding areas makes the bicycle a popular choice for a student’s daily commute. Several problems arise from the amount of bicycles seen on campus. First of all, there are limited bike racks around campus. More often than not, students arrive on campus for class and cannot find space to park their bikes, and so lock their bikes to rails, poles, etc., where the bikes are unsightly and acquire tickets. Secondly, there are bicycle owners on campus who do not use their bikes regularly. These bikes use space that could otherwise be used for more frequently used bicycles. Lastly, many students wish to have a bike for some occasions, but the idea of paying for a bike and maintaining it can be off-putting. This situation demands a bike sharing service. However, there are many limitations for traditional bike sharing. Traditional bike sharing services often utilize centralized bike storing points where users can rent and return bikes to those locations, shown in Figure 1. This will consume the space of the previous bike stands. This model also lacks flexibility. While some students might need a bike on a regular basis, some only need a bike occasionally for special cases. A system where students can check for availability of bikes at a bike stand near them at any time and can rent a bike on the go is more suitable for the life of a WashU student.

Figure 1: A traditional bike sharing site. Traditional bike sharing programs require installing permanent fixtures that serve only one purpose. Only bikes from the bike sharing program can be parked at these sites; therefore, only participants in these bike sharing programs benefit from the bikes and these bike sharing stations. Often, participants can only return a rented bike to these limited return sites.

In order to tackle the limitations presented by traditional bike sharing services, we decided to use a wireless sensor network to monitor the availability of sharable bikes at each individual bike parking site.

The bike sharing program should be able to update the number of bikes available at each parking location in real time. Furthermore, the design should be able to assign bikes to users who request a bike. By randomly generating a number code that unlocks the bike, the software side of the project should record the last user of the bike.