SOLAR-charged SHARED ELECTRIC BIKE FLEET.... Hoten Parmar (left), deputy director of the national uYilo eMobility Programme, based at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, gives mechatronics student intern (Unathi Mabi) a demonstration on how to use the new shared fleet of solar charged electric bikes (eBike) at NMMU.


STUDENTS and staff at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University can cut out the long walk between the university's North and South campuses, by hopping onto a shared solar-charged e-bike.

Ten e-bikes, all part of a shared fleet, have just been launched (February 2016) as part of this unique green trasport pilot project.

"This project is a first for a South African university," said NMMU Infrastructure Project Director Greg Ducie.

The shared e-bikes can be collected and dropped off at custom-designed docking stations on the two campuses - the engineering and innovation of South Africa's pioneering uYilo eMobility Programme, based at NMMU, in collaboration with merSETA and NMMU Infrastructure Projects.

"Each station has roof top solar panels that provides the green energy toward powering this green transport solution," said uYilo Deputy Director Hiten Parmar.

The swipe of a student or staff access card will be all that is required to check them out of their stations, although those wanting to use them will have to carry out a once off online registration and collect keys and a helmet from the security points. Each bike, which weighs approximately 35kg and can reacha top speed of 25km/h, has an on-board tracking unit for data capturing.

uYilo will be monitoring usage to test teh effectiveness of the pilot, which will run until December 2016.

"Society need to embrace the concept of shared mobility as a service to get from Point A to Point B rather than the 'ownership' way of thinking. The e-bike are a great way to showcase teh fleet sharing system," said Parmar.

Parmar said the project also provided "exciting opportunities for further research on a real life application and working model".

"Engineering, Chemistry, ICT and Computer Science departments will all have the opportunity for research involvement, towards improving the base platform to include technologies such as wireless charging, web and mobility reservation and monitoring systems, improved battery chemistry composition, and so on."

Car sharing - a step-up from bike sharing - is happening in major cities like London, Paris, Oslo and now introduced in South Africa by Locomoute (NMMU business school graduates), is a vision towards which uYilo is working. In addition to harvesting renewable energy for green mobility, mobility sharing reduces the number of cars on the road which has an improved effect on the quality on our air.

The e-bike project has been jointly funded by NMMU, uYilo and the Advanced Mechatronics Technology Centre (WHich houses NMMU's merSETA chair in Engineering Development).

"We will monitor the success of the pilot, before we will look at expanding these such projects nationally," said Parmar.

uYilo was set up in Nelson Mandela Bay, the heart of South Africa's automotive industry, by the government's Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) in 2013.