The MIT Autonomous Bicycle can offer an improved user experience by bringing the convenience of mobility-on-demand systems to bicycle-sharing, while solving, at the same time, some of the challenges found in current systems such as the rebalancing problem or the over-quantification of fleets.
Fleet rebalancing is one of the major issues in today's bicycle-sharing systems. Due to similarities in commuting patterns - e.g. people moving inbound in rush hour - and other effects such as the presence of hills, bicycles concentrate in some areas of the city at certain times of the day, while other areas remain bikeless. In these situations, finding available bikes or docks becomes an issue, increasing travel time, and causing users’ frustration and loss of reliability in the system. To mitigate this problem, operators have to redistribute bicycles though the city in specifically designed vans or trucks, leading to a high economic and ecological cost.
On the other hand, dockless systems, not being restricted by the number and size of stations, may suffer from over-quantification. These fleet sizes may exceed the infrastructure capacities of the cities and user demand, causing urban problems and the flexibility in the drop off location can mean that people will leave bikes piled in the streets and sidewalks. Because of these issues, some cities have started to limit dockless fleet sizes, while others have forced operators to cease their programs.
With a fleet of autonomous bicycles like the MIT Autonomous Bicycle, the rebalancing problem is lessened as bicycles would drive by themselves to the next user (or to the region where demand is predicted to occur). In addition, being more efficient than current systems, fewer bikes would be needed to meet the same demand.
For users, to have a door-to-door service without having to deal with the problem of finding available bicycles or docks would greatly improve the bike-sharing experience. Reduced travel times and increased convenience would incentivize more people to use shared-bicycles for commuting, supporting this way a transition towards more livable and sustainable cities.