RFID to find stolen bikes in British Columbia

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Tech startup Bikebac, started by three cycling enthusiasts, sells RFID tags with annual subscriptions so bike owners can be alerted if their stolen bike is identified at a participating store.

A group of bikers and entrepreneurs have launched an RFID-based system to help consumers track and recover their bikes in the event of theft. The solution, known as Velobac Tracker, is designed to return stolen bikes to their rightful owners if detected by RFID reader portals located at participating bike shops.

The solution was launched in May 2021 and the company sold the tracker (a UHF RFID sticker) in bike stores and online, while rolling out its reader portals to stores in the Whistler, Canada area in the province of British Columbia. At launch, the system was sold both through business partners and online. Participants each receive a tracking tag, and if their missing bike shows up at a store, the owner will receive an SMS or email alert that it has been detected. The system then directs them to the local authorities with a case number, or to the bicycle shop to collect their goods.

Company co-founders Vincent Grace Brian White and Brandon Phillips share a passion for cycling and have a combined business and technology background. The trio launched the business this year as a solution to tackle the growing rate of stolen bikes in their area. All three are avid cyclists, like White and Grace on mountain bikes in British Columnia, while Phillips rides the roads of Calgary.

Two of Grace’s bikes were stolen while he was at school, and he never saw them again. White, on the other hand, says that while he has never lost his own bike, theft is rife and several of his friends have had their high-priced mountain bikes stolen. On average, in fact, two million bikes are stolen in North America each year, according to statistics compiled by the security software company Project 529.

In Vancouver, where the highest percentage of bicycles are stolen among major Canadian cities, 2,115 people went missing in 2020. This is in part due to the high use of bicycles in the region, according to White, which has increased since. start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although around 50% of stolen bikes are recovered by the police, only around 5% are actually returned to their owners, simply because the bikes are not registered in a way that would help police locate them. Often, for example, bicycles are recovered in a police raid or are found where they were thrown. Project 529 provides a means of serialization to uniquely identify and register bikes, and Bikebac is intended to take that effort a step further.

Grace is a technologist specializing in using RFID to monitor athletes in trampoline parks and other sports facilities, as well as web development. So he knew how to create an RFID solution and knew the potential benefits. Traditional bike tracking systems often rely on GPS units, he says, but they tend to be expensive and their batteries run out. Other products designed to track keys or wallets, such as the Tile app for lost and found items, are not designed for bike theft and therefore have their own flaws.

The Bikebac system

With RFID in mind, White says, the company considered the profile of most bicycle thieves. While some thefts are crimes of opportunity, with a bike thief taking an immediate turn, in most cases this is organized crime. Bicycles are stolen on a large scale so that criminals can then convert those bikes into cash. Bicycles or their parts are sold out quickly and most bikes end up in a store, whether for repair or resale work.

“So how do we track these bikes if they show up later in a bike shop?” White asks. “We thought RFID was the best tool. [There are] no batteries, and the read range is excellent. The team developed a UHF RFID tag that could be discreetly attached to a bicycle and reliably transmit data to a reader portal. A third-party manufacturer builds the labels, while Bikebac has designed its own portal reader using standard components, including an RFID reader and antenna, a 4G cellular modem and an on-board computer.

Bikebac remains the owner of the portals that it installs in bicycle shops that agree to participate. The player only needs a power source. Consumers must first acquire the tag and then install or hide it on their bicycle. The label comes with an adhesive backing so that it can stick anywhere on the frame, on or inside a tire. It is designed to be discreet and a bike shop could install it in such a way that the tag is protected and invisible.

In the long run, White says, bike makers may be able to embed the labels directly into the components of the bikes. Each beacon comes with one year of Bikebac alert service, and users pay an annual fee of $ 12 in subsequent years. They can follow the setup instructions to first scan a QR code provided by Bikebac, then create an account and add a bike by entering a nine-digit code printed on the tag. The system provides videos to help users apply the label correctly to their bikes.

For credentials, users can provide a phone number and email address so they can be contacted in case their missing bike is detected. If the tag is queried by a Bikebac reader at the entrance to a store, it will transmit its unique identification number, which will then be transmitted to Bikebac’s cloud-based software, which will automatically send an alert to the registered owner of the bike. . Additionally, the system can send a case number that consumers can take to local law enforcement, or they can go directly to the bike shop to collect their stolen goods.

For the system to be successful, says Bikebac, a large-scale deployment of its technology to bike shops is needed, and this process is now underway at the regional level, starting with the Whistler area. For bicycle shops, the company explains, there is little investment: they simply agree to have the portal installed, and Bikebac then owns and maintains the reading infrastructure. The main benefit for stores, says Grace, is the community service offering that they can help combat bike theft. However, the system also provides financial compensation, because if a store sells the system to a customer, they will receive a portion of the cost of the installation and the label, as well as a percentage of the annual fee paid by the owner of the store. bike.

The technology is being deployed at a time when owning a bicycle is more expensive, the company reports, and also more popular than in previous years. The Sea-to-Sky Corridor region of British Columbia in particular has a large number of bicycle shops, and those who live or visit the area have a great playground in the form of the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, as well as the local parks for downhill and cross-country biking. Most bikes in the area sell for between $ 4,000 and $ 8,000 each.

In the long term, White says, the company plans to sell the solution across Canada and the United States. “We are focused on growth,” he says. The enthusiasm of bikers, along with the growing challenge of flying, helped boost the company in its early days, he reports. “The cycling community is still passionate about bicycles. People spend 8, 10, 14,000 on their bikes; most people I know spent more on their bikes than their cars, so that’s where our strength lies, with the passion of the community. “

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