Streetlife, an intermodal route planning app that takes bicycles, buses, rail, vehicular and even foot traffic into account – is being used by the European Union to reduce CO2 emissions in three pilot cities: Berlin; Tampere, Finland and Rovereto, Italy. Users can have the time, distance, cost and even the CO2 emissions displayed for each variant. Suggested travel modes take current weather conditions into account and, for the first time, alert users to danger spots for cyclists based on accident statistics and cyclist surveys.
Ride a Bike and Plant a Tree
Using a smart phone game, bicyclists can pedal virtual trees into existence and turn them into real ones later on. The game is part of a project that Corporate Technology researchers from Siemens are using to promote environmentally friendly means of transportation.
Siemens’ involvement in Streetlife begins with its subsidiary VMZ Berlin, whose software proposes intermodal routes for the app’s users. In addition, Siemens’ City Intelligence Platform (CIP), which was developed by Corporate Technology (CT), uses data analytics to manage associated services. As an information and data platform for cities, CIP organizes the communication between the different system components, and manages and evaluates user data. “This kind of evaluation would involve, for example, the question of whether cyclists collected an especially large or small number of kilometers on certain days and why this was so,” says CT researcher Christian Schwingenschlögl. To make the app, which tends to be rather cerebral, more fun and attractive, Schwingenschlögl and Astrid Kellermann from the Traffic Systems Business Unit within Mobility Management (MO MM ITS) came up with a third way to involve Siemens in Streetlife – a competition called BikeRider.
Competition is the Key
“BikeRider was the final piece of the puzzle that enabled us to attract a large number of users,” remarks Kellermann. “A number of commercial apps already exist – Berlin’s BVG transit agency has one, for instance – and we were afraid we wouldn’t find enough users. And so we came up with the idea of holding a competition, which turned out to be a great success.” With BikeRider, players collect ten leaves for every kilometer ridden on a bike. Once they’ve collected 500 leaves, or 50 kilometers, they can plant a tree on a virtual map of Berlin. “At first, the app only displayed the CO2 footprint in the form of leaves. But after we launched the competition with the trees, the number of users really shot up,” Kellermann says. BikeRider was launched in early March 2016 and is played in three rounds of one month each. The cyclist who has ridden the most kilometers is determined for each month. The first- and second-place contestants win a real tree, sponsored by Siemens and planted by Berlin’s city tree initiative.
By mid-April, BikeRider had 180 registered participants, who had biked a total of nearly 7,000 kilometers, and the app itself had been downloaded more than 900 times. “It’s nice to see the community growing. I can see a whole lot of trees on our map,” Kellermann rejoices. The two winners for March have also already been selected. Despite the early spring weather, the cyclists covered 460 and 400 kilometers, respectively.
To implement the game, the researchers first had to install BikeRider on the City Intelligence Platform (CIP). “Kilometer calculations, score implementation, and the entire competition all run on the platform,” explains Schwingenschlögl. GPS data is provided by participants’ smart phones. An algorithm developed by the researchers then determines whether each participant is riding his/her bike, walking or riding a bus at that particular point in time. The actual game is based on this data, namely the kilometers that each player covers by bike.
The EU project is now investigating how Streetlife influences user behavior. The bike riders – who are otherwise anonymous – are asked why they chose or did not choose suggested routes. The German Aeronautics Center (DLR) carries out these surveys. The app itself is from DFKI (the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence), which is a project partner. Plans call for using the results to model the potential impact of the app – if it is widely implemented – on Berlin’s traffic.
Expansion to Other Cities
The Streetlife pilot program will end in the fall of 2016. “We are considering approaching other cities with the idea of using BikeRider as a way to motivate people to ride bikes,” Kellermann reports. “Nearly every city has a routing app, including the one from MVG here in Munich. BikeRider can build on these apps.” The City Intelligence Platform, which processes the tracking data, would also be easy to add to existing city apps. Inquiries are already being made. In the meantime, the researchers are considering ways to further expand the game, for example by allowing teams to compete against each other. This would give cities the option of launching a widespread competition or to implement the game in conjunction with major events and thus organize their mobility in a sustainable way.