A Japanese schoolgirl aged 11 has won a patent for a bicycle parking system which uses magnetic force to move the bikes either side of the one being parked or retrieved, thereby making the system easier and safer for people to use and preventing bikes from being damaged.
The idea came to Hitomi Hirabayashi after the basket of her own bike was damaged when she tried to pull it out of a full bike rack, reports the Nikkei Asian Review in an article about the emphasis the Japanese education system is now placing on teaching kids about intellectual property.
"The bike was damaged because I tried to move it forcefully," said Hitomi, who wondered, "Is it possible to move bikes without human power?"
The system she eventually devised harnesses magnetic forces to push aside the bike racks either side of the one where a rider is depositing or picking up their bike.
Helped by her father Toru, who just happens to be a lawyer specialising in intellectual property, she has patented the idea.
She said: "I knew there was a system that has to do with patents and that people could use it to earn money from their innovations.
“I told my parents that I wanted to obtain a patent for my bike parking idea, and they were willing to help me."
Hitomi drew up the application herself, including a clear explanation of her concept.
"I tried to give her minimum assistance," her father explained.
"I only told her how to proceed with the application process and was present when she submitted her documents."
News of her invention comes as Japan seeks to reclaim its spot as the world’s second largest producer of patents – the United States occupies the top spot – from China, including a number of initiatives aimed at teaching schoolchildren about intellectual property.
Masahiro Nishina of the country’s Intellectual Property Strategy Promotion Bureau said the aim was to "foster the abilities to create new things from the questions and challenges that emerge every day, not just offer detailed information, such as how to receive a patent," thereby “increasing the competitiveness of Japanese companies."
Hitomi’s invention isn’t the first example of innovation in bike parking we’ve seen from Japan – previously, we’ve reported on a robot-operated underground cycle parking facility in Tokyo that has to be seen to be believed. Follow the link below for the video.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.