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Video: Tokyo’s subterranean robot cycle parking facility

Mechanical arm grabs bikes and carries them underground

Ever locked your bike in a busy location and still felt it was less than secure? Maybe you’d feel better if you could have a robot lock it away in an underground vault, away from thieves and bad weather. If you haven’t seen Giken's ECO Cycle system in action before, here’s a video. Tell us you aren’t impressed.

Of course you are. In fact so impressive is the facility that it's become a bit of an internet meme returning at regular intervals. This is actually the second time we've written about it and the third it's featured on the site. The first occasion was waaaay back in 2009, but sadly that story is so old it's actually fallen out of our archive here's a link to the video we based it on or was it this one? Hey, it was a long time ago - and either way the best video about this particular bike park is from when the BBC took an access all areas look inside back in 2013.

The facility, located at Tokyo's Kasai Metro Station, can store hundreds of bikes - 144 per underground bunker, returning each one to its rightful owner within seconds. It works via an ID tag on the front fork and an associated owner’s card so that the machine knows which bike to select when you return to collect.

But it’s the mechanics of the operation that are most impressive. Take a look.

When stored, bikes are aligned in a zigzag pattern to prevent handlebars hitting each other and to make maximum use of the available space. It’s fast and efficient and Giken have gone on to install similar facilities in a number of locations throughout Japan.

In 2013, we reported that a couple of Dutch automated bike parking designs were due to be sold in Britain. Originally developed for the Dutch Railways OV Fiets cycle hire scheme, the VelowSpace is based on a carousel, in which 24 bikes are effectively parked in a ring with their front wheel in front.

The VeloMinck, however, has more in common with the ECO Cycle system. It picks up bikes and transports them to a secure storage space, retrieving them when the cyclist requests theirs using a barcode or swipe card.

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the road.cc team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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21 comments

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HKCambridge | 9 years ago
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One of my local councillors saw this story and went and investigated it, out of curiosity and whether it might be possible for some projects.

He was quoted £3,500. Per bike space.

Not including construction costs.

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ronin | 9 years ago
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I want one for my house.

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PonteD | 9 years ago
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Don't VW have one of these for cars? I think this is great. Can't see it being much use at work though, I don't think I've ever seen more than 5 bikes at one time. How we struggle on those days to find a space amongst the 20 or so empty racks.

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Edinburgh Festi... | 9 years ago
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The Spanish were there first, the Biceberg opened in 1994 and is still going strong...

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bazzargh | 9 years ago
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I wish we wouldn't keep seeing the Japanese examples, as if it was some "only in Japan" bizarre tech. eg via Copenhagenize, here's a company that builds them in Spain, storing up to 92 bikes, 30s retrieval time. This one stores each bike boxed, so you can leave panniers in there too!

More recently, they've been producing a 'bigloo' above-ground variant (more visible, lower capacity, but lower cost install I guess?):

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Travis | 9 years ago
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I have seen the huge cycle parks in Holland, and if you think about Tokyo, that would be some huge real estate (value) you are taking up.
This suits Tokyo's need, and fits very well with their culture.
Each place, needs to find a solution that fits their needs and requirements.

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A V Lowe | 9 years ago
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These were being described in the 1988 review Bikes & Public Transportation (Replogle - BFA/WWI) and I had a video of one operation collected from Velo City 1997.

We saw a version with 29 bikes at Winterthur in 1995, and were not impressed by the level of service. Around 40 seconds to park a bike, and imagine that you have timed the bike ride to catch your train and there are 2 people in front of you queuing to park. The Dutch tried carousels in the 1990's for parking and abandoned the idea. Ever wondered why the concept has not spread given that it's been around so long?

Dispensers like this can work for hire bikes - because all are the same and the cycle time to get a fresh bikes or put one back is shorter than recovering an individual bike.

The convenience/level of service issue is clearly focussed with cycling - drivers accept longer delays, and time taken to park. Witness the Tokyo suburban stations with 5,500 parking spaces but 8,500 bikes filling the official spaces and then overflowing illegally in to the areas around the station.

For individual parking a lot to be commended in secured compounds, but keeping these small and cellular. Recognise that a diversity factor of 30 -50% can be applied, and if some of the parking is adaptable (Sheffield hoops), the occasional surge to requiring 110% capacity, can be accommodated, as a Sheffield Stand can be parked to 350% of the theoretical capacity if required.

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hsiaolc | 9 years ago
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Of course they work. I wish we have them here in London so I can take my precious bike in London instead only commuting to work and back home only.

I would love to cycle in with my bike and someone to park like that so not to worry about it being stolen or vandalized and away from the weather.

I am sure one day it will get here. Hopefully. We seriously needs them as well since our bikes are stolen way too much here by gangs and sells them in other parts of the world. Ours gets stolen even in our own home and in garages.

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notfastenough | 9 years ago
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Datacentre tape autoloader, anyone?

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backflipbedlem | 9 years ago
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That is so cool! Seen it before! But still amazes me!
Would love to see these in London!

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HKCambridge | 9 years ago
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I think the uneducated comments here might be from the people who haven't experienced actual mass cycling culture.

Mass cycling has cargo bikes. Mass cycling has trailers, and tag-alongs, and tricycles, because people are making everyday journeys with children, or having to carry goods, or on the bike they need to be able to balance or support themselves.

Mass cycling has 10,000 bike cycle-parks, not 144. 15-20 seconds per person, in a queue, simply isn't feasible at peak time.

You'd need 21 of these to match the capacity of the new Cambridge station cycle park, which will be able to accept non-standard cycles as well. In the Netherlands there are many larger cycle parks. It's an expensive, flashy solution to, at best, a very specific problem.

The Dutch version of this, linked in the post, is for hire bikes. I can see it working there, or possibly for areas which require less numerous or time-sensitive parking. Although even on the linked post there's someone claiming it was ultimately rejected.

If all we're doing is operating on the basis of 'woah, that's cool', then fine. Let's not think about the practicality.

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macrophotofly replied to HKCambridge | 9 years ago
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HKCambridge wrote:

I think the uneducated comments here might be from the people who haven't experienced actual mass cycling culture.

Mass cycling has cargo bikes. Mass cycling has trailers, and tag-alongs, and tricycles, because people are making everyday journeys with children, or having to carry goods, or on the bike they need to be able to balance or support themselves.

Mass cycling has 10,000 bike cycle-parks, not 144. 15-20 seconds per person, in a queue, simply isn't feasible at peak time.

You'd need 21 of these to match the capacity of the new Cambridge station cycle park, .

Please bear in mind that you get one of these per 4 meters and it takes up just 1x3 meters of ground space. In Tokyo you don't often have the ground space for 10,000 bike spaces (although there are many, many bike parks they all get filled up to the brim).
Also Tokyo does mass transit in bike form far more than the UK or the western world (only Holland is similar). 99% of those bikes are Mamachari's - big stand up and beg bikes, often with seats for children on front and back (look up Mamachari bike on Google pictures if you want to see)- this machine can handle those bikes and the small child bikes you mention (although most kids seem to borrow their parents / get their own Mamachari's as soon as they are tall enough to perch on the front of the seat)

They installed five of these stations (for a total ~750 bikes) just on a small pavemented area with no impact on the walkway in two months back in 2013. They are down in Shinagawa (near one of the busiest stations in Tokyo). If you look at this googlemap link and switch to Satellite, then zoom in, you will see the five ground stations (even more interesting at Streetmap level)
https://maps.google.com/maps?ll=35.629771,139.742598&z=17&t=m&hl=en-GB&g...'47.2%22N+139%C2%B044'33.4%22E%4035.629771,139.742598&output=classic&dg=brw

I'm not a rep for the company; just a English guy who happens to be lucky enough to have lived in several cities around the world (now in Tokyo) and has seen this machine.
I'd also note they can put one of these alongside the ground piles of office block foundations - meaning your office can have 144 bike spaces below their basement taking up a room that normally would only store 10 bikes....

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Jitensha | 9 years ago
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I normally do not comment on post, but negative comments are getting too much. Every time without even taking a second to analyze posts, people make uneducated comments how stupid an article is. Please travel the world and learn about culture and reasons why some decisions are made. Maybe once you get out of your house you may agree in part on some discussions.

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IanW1968 | 9 years ago
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Im sure I saw a tv program about this a couple of years ago, is it actually new?

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giff77 | 9 years ago
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Well said Macro.  41 I would be happy to wait an extra handful of seconds safe in the knowledge that my hack would be returned to me intact. Meanwhile folk in the UK would rather chain their bike up at an unsheltered unmonitored rack and then complain that their bike has been either nicked or stripped.

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macrophotofly | 9 years ago
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Thanks HK Cambridge. I agree too much bad mouthing around here without any knowledge.
I live in Tokyo. The bike parking is a problem in some places and this could help. I understand it retrieves your bike in 15 seconds and there are several containers in a row. Also people here are really polite and organised. So they don't mind waiting a a orderly queue while a couple of other people retrieving their bikes, take up 30 seconds of their life. They know the device is well maintained and will keep working at high efficiency. They also know that if they miss a train there will be another along in 3 minutes, on time and with polite staff (plus you can take your bike on it if you cover it with a lightweight bike bag)
Finally they know that the containers are anti-seismic so that their bike stands a far better chance of being safe down there, than on the surface where glass and other materials rain down from the buildings in an earthquake (unlike when the fire alarm goes off in a UK building, when the alarm goes off for an earthquake in Tokyo, the last thing you do is go outside!)
Ironically the thing that's least needed here from this device is the reduced chance of your bike being stolen. People don't tend to steal in Japan. There is some, but a lot, lot less

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PaulBox | 9 years ago
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 41

The commentators of Road-cc never fail to find the negatives...

Earthquakes and tsunami - Stuff on the surface doesn't tend to fair too well either you know.

It seemed to take less than 20 seconds to retrieve the bike, I would rather wait a few minutes and actually have my bike retrieved than get off a train to find just a broken lock.

But don't worry chaps, we won't get them here anyway, must cost a small fortune to install.

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HKCambridge | 9 years ago
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But how many bikes can it retrieve/store at once? I just can't see this being practical in a place with large numbers of people who cycle.

For somewhere like a train station, with lots of users wanting to use it simultaneously for a time-sensitive event, it's a severe pinch point over everyone retrieving/parking their own bike. One train-load London to Cambridge would probably do it. Worse if you're trying to catch a train.

Also trikes and trailers a problem. Not clear on cargo bikes / tandems from the video.

Not that it couldn't have its uses, I'm just not going to get excited over the idea that this is the future of cycle parking.

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Tony Farrelly replied to HKCambridge | 9 years ago
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HKCambridge wrote:

But how many bikes can it retrieve/store at once? I just can't see this being practical in a place with large numbers of people who cycle.

For somewhere like a train station, with lots of users wanting to use it simultaneously for a time-sensitive event, it's a severe pinch point over everyone retrieving/parking their own bike. One train-load London to Cambridge would probably do it. Worse if you're trying to catch a train.

Also trikes and trailers a problem. Not clear on cargo bikes / tandems from the video.

Not that it couldn't have its uses, I'm just not going to get excited over the idea that this is the future of cycle parking.

Erm… it is at a train station HK.

If you watch the BBC video linked to in the second para you'll see it retrieves the bikes in a few seconds. probably considerably fewer than most of us spend fumbling for the key to our D-lock in our rucksacks.

As we ref'd in our original story in 2009, and the second video we linked to also mentions that station has a few thousand bike parking places.

The Japanese have had those underground bike parks for years - and I don't think this particular one is the only one either. So they obviously think they work.

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ubercurmudgeon | 9 years ago
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Just what you want in a country with high incidence of earthquakes and tsunami.

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only1redders | 9 years ago
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If they could clean your bike as well whilst down there, then I'll take it. How much?

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