Nextbike's Quest to Simplify Bike-Sharing

The company is utilizing NFC tags and readers to facilitate its operations in 18 countries.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 01, 2016

For several years, Nextbike, a bicycle-rental system provider based in Leipzig, Germany, has been using Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID tags to identify bikes docked at its stations, and to provide authorized users with access to those bicycles. With RFID tags embedded in its bikes, the company can confirm not only that a bike is authentic before its locking mechanism is engaged, but also that a bicycle has been returned on time, explains Sebastian Schlebusch, Nextbike's director of international business development. Users can also employ smart cards with built-in NFC tags to access bikes.

Nextbike was established in 2005 with 20 rental bikes, and now has more than 30,000 bicycles worldwide. Originally, each customer had to call a hotline to receive a code for unlocking a docked bike.

A Smart-TEC RFID tag is embedded into a recess located in the metal docking adapter on each bike's front fork.
Later on, Nextbike installed automated payment terminals allowing users to rent a bike via an app on their NFC-enabled smartphone, or a high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID smart card. An individual could also log in to Nextbike's website via a mobile phone and enter a specific dock's ID number. Once a customer was authorized, the system released the lock securing the bicycle to the dock.

In 2011, however, the company approached Smart-TEC to obtain an RFID tag that would provide a unique identifier for each bike. Smart-TEC specializes in custom tags, says Klaus Dargahi, Smart-TEC's managing director. In this case, he explains, the challenge was to create a tag that would fit into a recess located in the metal docking adapter on each bike's front fork (rather than simply affixing the tag to the adapter's surface), thereby preventing the tag from being damaged or scraped off.

Nextbike's Sebastian Schlebusch stands beside one of his company's automated payment terminals that allow riders to rent a bike via an app on their NFC-enabled smartphone, or a 13.56 MHz RFID smart card.
Smart-TEC encased an NFC RFID inlay (the company utilizes a variety of off-the-shelf 13.56 MHz inlays compliant with the ISO 144443 standard) in an epoxy to protect the tag. The firm also had to tune the tag, Dargahi explains, so that it would transmit data properly from its position surrounded by the bike's metal frame. Nextbike glued the tags to each bike's docking adaptor, and also incorporated an Elatec TWN4 Mifare NFC reader into each of its SmartDocks.

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