5 Cool Concepts for Mobility on Demand, Courtesy of Copenhagen

Copenhagen residents hardly need to be convinced of pedal power — the city boasted ahead of the UN climate talks taking place there through next week that half of its commuters use bikes to get to work. But that doesn’t mean every Dane needs to outright own one. Last night, the city named three winners (hat tip Copenhagenize) in a contest for next-gen bike-sharing system designs. The idea is to replace the current Bycyklen program with a more modern system by 2013, one that will strengthen the bicycle culture in a city where the number of bikes already outnumbers residents by at least 41,000.

The 127 concepts from five continents submitted in the Copenhagen Bike-Share Competition — far more than organizers expected, according to the Copenhagenize blog — illustrate a wealth of creativity in the realm of tech-enabled green transportation and what some transit and urban planning geeks call “mobility on demand” (explained in depth on GigaOM Pro, subscription required).

Some of these concepts — which address bicycle design, storage, booking, access, payment and logistics — may be too far-fetched for real-world deployment, but they’re darn cool. As Klaus Bondam, mayor of the Technical and Environmental Administration for Copenhagen, put it in the competition guidelines, “The possibilities are numerous and only the fantasy sets the limit.” Here’s a rundown of the top four winners announced on Thursday, plus a fifth to which the judges gave a special nod. Check out the competition web site for full graphics and 122 additional concepts.

Open Bike by Lots Design, Koucky & Partners (tied for first prize): This team came up with a concept for a “floating” bike-sharing system, in which all the necessary technology for managing the program is integrated into each individual bike. From the description, it sounds like the system would track bike locations via GPS and allow users to view and reserve them on a mobile device. The jury notes in its assessment, however, that, “If a floating system is chosen as the basic model for a new bike share system, further work is required to ensure that the bicycles are easy to locate and that the users are encouraged to contribute to an optimal distribution of bicycles on a daily basis.”

MyLoop by Thomas Coulbeaut (tied for first prize): The MyLoop concept features a docking station that doubles as a charge point for the spoke- and hub-free bike’s battery-powered interface, and a mechanism for users to easily lock a bike at locations around the city “so long as the bicycle is registered as in use by the system.” The jury noted a few weak points: “The project could benefit from further work on the integration of a bicycle basket and how space for parking stations can be kept clear.” And keeping the no-spoke, no-hub wheel design would require a detailed maintenance plan and proof of durability “for the Scandinavian climate.”

COBI by Kaspar Grundahl, Morten Engel (second prize): Taking the conventional approach of having one docking station per bike, COBI’s standout feature is “an incentive structure where the user is rewarded by returning the bicycle to places where the demand is highest,” according to the jury, which also liked the idea of having bikes painted a range of colors in order to dissolve “the perception that they are part of a massive system.”

The Blue Breeze by Jacob Kristensen, Malte Agerskov (third prize): This team devised a system that goes well beyond the bike, envisioning collaborative roles for businesses and a new commuter shuttle bus to support the bike-sharing system and also proposing a scheme to integrate the bicycles into “the ticketing system of the greater collective transport network.” Like the COBI concept, the Blue Breeze includes an incentive system to encourage users to help optimize distribution (i.e. pick up bikes where demand is low and drop them off where it’s higher).

Cyclink by Jung Geun Tak, Shinhyun Kang (special prize): The jury singled out Cyclink for a Special Prize for Most Exciting Bicycle Design because it addresses the city’s challenge of providing space for its hundreds of thousands of bikes, especially at train stations. Copenhagen “already uses large swaths of the urban space for bicycle parking,” the jury notes. Cyclink’s solution for conserving space? Stack ’em up like shopping carts.