Lifestyle

Fukushima Wheel Reinvents the City Bike System

Jun Yamadera of tech startup, Eyes, JAPAN has come up with a city bike rental scheme, which is both environmentally conscious and profit making.

Fukushima Wheel is the brainchild of Jun Yamadera, founder of Eyes, JAPAN, a tech startup based in the town of Aizuwakamatsu in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture. The idea emerged after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s northeastern shore left a devastating toll on tourism.

“Most of the tourists disappeared. As someone born and raised here, I felt I had to do something. I wanted to make our town easier to visit and that’s where the idea came from,” Yamadera explained.

He realised that by making the cycling experience more user friendly, it would encourage visitors to explore the area on bicycles. Meanwhile there was also concern around high radiation levels in the area. That was how Fukushima Wheel came about.

The Fukushima Wheel project is a cycle-hire scheme with an environmentally conscious agenda. Bicycles for hire are fitted with e-sensors to collect radiation and nitrogen compound levels, as cyclists move around the city. The data is then used to help analysts monitor the environment, contributing data useful for urban redevelopment in Fukushima.

Smart Tracker

To join the project, users can download a smartphone app that uses GPS to provide navigation and tracking functions, and useful information such as local points of interest. By entering information such as your weight, it can even keep track of how many calories you’re burning. And as you ride, the sensor fitted on the bike automatically collects data such as levels of radiation, nitrogen compounds, temperature and humidity. This data is then sent to a server via your smartphone, allowing local authorities to monitor environmental conditions.

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Data related to the movement of the bike can also be used to monitor road surfaces and analyse travel patterns.

“Cycle-hire schemes are already popular overseas as there is more awareness of bikes as an environmentally friendly form of transport,” Yamadera said. “But none of these schemes actually make money, so they are not viable as businesses.”

To turn the shared-cycle model into a profit-making business, LEDs have been added to the back wheels of the bikes, which allows advertising slogans or images to be projected onto them.

Positive Reception Abroad

Currently in the development stage, the Fukushima Wheel project is being promoted at science fairs and events all over the world. Yamadera said that the reception abroad has been overwhelmingly positive, which made him realise the potential of the project. In countries with forward-thinking attitudes to environmental issues, the Fukushima Wheel is seen as a revolutionary solution to existing problems.

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Even so, Yamadera knows that introducing a new system won’t be easy, but he hopes to build on the positive international reaction to convince the Japanese public of the project’s merits.

Meanwhile Yamadera and his team are also working on ideas to tackle social issues in health and agriculture. According to Yamadera, the possibilities to improve lives are endless, especially in the Internet age. In the case of Fukushima Wheel, all it took was an idea.

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