A few weeks ago, this solar powered, GPS-enabled, picture taking purple cruiser bike showed up at my door. It’s one of 20 bikes that Yahoo! commissioned as an experiment by the fine folks at Uncommon Projects and are being sprinkled around the world. There are three here in San Francisco and I have one of them. Some others are in New York, Vermont, Sydney Australia, Copenhagen Denmark and Singapore. You can see the whole list on Yahoo’s Start Wearing Purple site.
The bike is an 8-speed Electra Townie equipped with a Nokia N95 cellphone that takes a photo every minute while the bike is moving. It geotags the photo and uploads to a dedicated Flickr account immediately over the cell network. The solar panels on the back sit on top of a control panel connected to a long life battery that charges while out and about in the sun. I could ride the bike across the country nonstop, though I admit I haven’t tried that yet. If for some reason the bike runs out of juice, there’s an AC plug in the control panel that will charge the whole thing up overnight.
It comes with the nicely designed cat friendly owner’s manual.
If you dig into Start Wearing Purple, you can follow my bike on these sweet maps that plot the photos posted to Flickr. Unfortunately, the site is all in Flash and I can’t link directly to maps section. You can also see maps directly through the bike’s Flickr account.
So the verdict? It’s fun to ride, is a great conversation piece and proves that you can voluntarily surveil yourself very easily. The plus side of that is if the bike is stolen I can easily track it down. So far, I haven’t had to do that. The battery does last a long time (several days) so charging is an afterthought. The initial rev of the custom software running on the N95 was a little buggy and the phone would just stop taking photos sometimes as well as not geotag some photos. I had to open up the camera housing and force a reboot to get it going again until Tarikh from Uncommon Projects stopped by and upgraded it. It’s been smooth sailing ever since.
UPDATE: The Associated Press did a little video news segment on the ybike featuring Amit Gupta, who also has one of the three bikes in SF. Note the Unamerican sticker on the side of his solar panel box, a little gift from me. 🙂