Velo Labs Launches a Connected, Solar-Powered Bike Lock

A new kind of bike accessory that will increase safety and encourage sharing

2 min read
Velo Labs Launches a Connected, Solar-Powered Bike Lock
Photo: Skylock

A new bike lock on the market can do a whole lot more than keep a bicycle out of the hands of thieves.

Skylock, which was built by engineers from Boeing and Jawbone, starts by bringing new features to its primary function. The U-lock uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to connect to a smartphone, so owners—or anyone they authorize—can wirelessly unlock the device. If the lock senses that someone is holding on to it for too long, potentially to try to break it, it can send an alert, according to NPR.

There are other smart bike locks on the market, but none that rely almost completely on renewable energy. The Skylock, developed by startup Velo Labs in San Francisco, claims to be the first-ever to be equipped with a small solar panel and rechargeable battery system, which will “virtually eliminate manual charging,” the company says in a statement.

Even riders in foggy San Francisco shouldn’t need to plug in. Velo Labs says just an hour of sunlight will charge it for an entire week and a full charge can last about a month. “So unless the rider lives in a cave with little or no sunlight,” the company says, “the Skylock will always be ready to go.”

But that’s just the beginning.

“We wanted to take on the challenge of bringing cycling into the future,” Velo Labs co-founder Jack Al-Kahwati, who was formerly an engineer at Boeing, said in a statement. “I have spent years working on tanks, helicopters and aircraft, and while these forms of transportation have made huge leaps in safety and connectivity, the bike is still stuck in the 19th century,”

Beyond preventing theft, the Skylock can also be similar to the OnStar of the cycling world. Using its wireless function, it can compare data from its built-in accelerometer to that generated by a smartphone to determine if the rider has been in an accident. In the case of an impact, the Skylock can send a push notification to make sure the rider is OK. If the person doesn’t respond, the Skylock will send for emergency responders.

The connectivity also allows Skylock to be part of the sharing economy. Users can choose to lend their bikes to people in their networks using the app. And if you don’t entirely trust your friends, or you lend it to strangers, you can also track it via the app when it’s out of your hands.

Velo Labs is currently running a crowdfunding campaign and expects to start shipments by early 2015. It will retail for US $249, but is selling for an introductory price of $159 during the campaign. Despite all of the functionality Skylock promises, it cannot change a flat tire. 

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
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Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
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Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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