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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Robotic Bicycle Parking Garage

Japan's population is squeezed into a few large cities, such as Osaka and Tokyo. It's not a new phenomenon - most countries are built that way.

But, with some many people, getting around the city effectively is extremely important - something cities like Toronto have failed to grasp since sometime in the 1980s.

Japan has numerous subway lines - private and otherwise that meander damn near everyone around Tokyo, for example.

But despite the subway trains, some people like to ride their bicycles to work - and bravo for them.

I live over 30 kilometers from work, and there's no safe way for me to travel to and fro, but the worst thing for me would be that I would need a couple of showers a day, and a lung transplant.

But, if closer… I would consider it.

In Japan, many people do. I used to ride my bicycle everywhere in Japan. Matthew did, too until he became aware of the environmental damage he was doing from sweating and was forced to allow someone to give him a car - doctor's orders, in fact.

But in Tokyo, where space is at a premium… well… special underground parking seems like a plan.

I've walked the streets of Tokyo looking to become un-lost (I got lost in every single place I went to in Japan), and often noticed bicycles piled onto of each other next to street lamps.

I initially thought it was just the police piling up misplaced bicycles for a later pick-up, but when I attempted to walk around Tokyo with a Japanese friend (we still got lost), she explained that it was just a standard bicycle parking job.

So… a company called Giken Seisakusho Co. Ltd., created a robotic system for the underground parking of bicycles, a fantastic invention that stores the transport out of sight and out of mind in essentially a rounded dug out metal encased well-space 38 feet deep.

Known as the ECO Cycle, it is an anti-seismic mechanical underground parking lot with robotics, that it says it developed with the design concept of: “Culture Aboveground, Function Underground”.

I don't know what that means, but then again, I'm not smart enough to create robotics - just enough to write about them every once in a while. I wouldn't have thought 'aboveground' was one word, but again, what do I know?

I do like that it purports to be anti-seismic. I have to admit that when I first read that, I thought it said 'anti-Semitic', which would be quite awful, but anti-seismic? That should be great.

Immediately after that next big earthquake splits Tokyo open like a ripe watermelon, you can be happy to know that your bicycle is safe underground waiting for archaeologists to did it up and wonder just when cavemen discovered robotics.

Each ECO Cycle can hold up to 200 bicycles, though I also saw somewhere that it can hold 204. Actually, it was on the same site, proving the Internet is full of great and useful information. I don't know which number is correct, but at least you know now that it's one or the other, and you should not merely split the difference.
So… how does the ECO Cycle work?

You need an IC chip - that, as you move towards the ECO Cycle doorway, it recognizes that you already have an account with them. The chip is attached to the bike, by the way.

It only works if you have a pre-purchased chip and chip card, which I can only assume you can purchase from the ECO Cycle unit there, rather than having to go through any sort of Japanese municipal bureaucracy.

You roll the front of the bicycle towards the door, the door actually opens up an inch or two and then grips the front of the wheel and lifts it up a few millimeters.

You are then instructed by the polite female pre-recorded voice to please stand behind the yellow lines while the robotic system gets to work.

When you are satisfied that you have everything you need from the bicycle, you press a green start button, the doors open and it pulls in the bicycle, closing the doors after it is all the way in. I would imagine that a vision system of some kind monitors the length of the bicycle.

The bicycle is then taken down under the streets of Tokyo, and maneuvered around and then parked into an open space for you. Apparently, it takes less than 15 seconds to park the bicycle.There is no receipt that you need in order to get your bicycle back, though you do need a special pre-purchased card.

Aside from creating a safer walking environment for strollers on the sidewalks, you don't have to worry about anyone stealing your bike, or the rain pissing precipitation down upon it soaking your bicycle seat because you forgot to have that tiny crack in the seat fixed.

I did that once. Never again. I got that bicycle seat replaced the very next day and enjoyed a dry bum everyday after that. Sort of. You know what I mean.

As well as pedestrian safety, Giken says it allows firefighters to have better access to buildings and whatnot in case of an emergency.

When you want your bicycle back, you utilize a special card with a chip on it. Placing it over a scanner located just below the Start button, the card is read, analyzes your account, and pulls your bicycle up the same way it went down, arriving back at street level facing the parking lot doorway.

By the way, the polite Japanese voice will apologize as it yells at you should you step in the path of the bicycle as it is coming up, telling you to "please stay behind the yellow lines for your safety."

I'm unsure if it will halt the retrieval proves if you ignore its warning, but I imagine Giken would have built in that safety feature.

Once the bicycle is up, the robotic grip still holds onto the front tire of your bicycle. Vision sensors see you pull to back it up, release the tire, retrieve the robotic arm to within the system and the doors close as the female recoding apologizes as it thanks you for allowing it to park your bicycle for you for a sum of money.

I am unsure how many of these robotic solutions have been placed in busy urban centers around Japan (I would assume only Tokyo and Osaka, right now), but I do know that the first one ECO Cycle bicycle garage was placed within the grounds of Tokyo's Shinagawa-eki (Shinagawa Train Station).

Here's a video from Danny Choo's Culture Japan video series. Nicely done Mr. Choo!

How much does it cost? No idea. Does it charge by the month, by the day, by each use, or by the amount of time the bicycle is stored underground? No idea. Mr. Choo left that out.

He also didn't offer up where you get the scanner chip and card, but again, I would assume it is right there at the aboveground area of the robotic parking garage. Hmm.. I've never written the word 'aboveground' before... it does flow nicely from my fingers as a single word! Waytago Giken!

You can read more about Giken at its website: For more on Culture Japan, visit

Andrew Joseph

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