MIT Autonomous Bicycle drives to you; could transform public bike-share schemes

MIT Autonomous Bicycle Project
The MIT Autonomous Bicycle aims to bring the convenience of on-demand mobility to bicycle-sharing. Images © Maitane Iruretagoyena

The world’s urban population is growing at an unprecedented pace, with cities projected to represent 68% of the global population by 2050. This rapid urbanization poses challenges that require innovative solutions regarding housing, infrastructure, services, and mobility. One of the main challenges is the need for efficient, ecological, inexpensive, and reliable means of transport that can provide a convenient flow of people and goods around cities, while minimizing mobility-related problems such as congestion, air pollution, or long daily commute times. The MIT Autonomous Bicycle aims to address this challenge by transforming bicycle-sharing systems into an on-demand mobility solution.

Why bicycles?

Bicycles are a sustainable and efficient means of transportation that can provide mobility in congested urban areas while reducing carbon emissions. Shared bicycles have become increasingly popular in cities around the world, with bike-sharing systems offering a cost-effective and convenient way to travel short distances. However, bike-sharing systems face challenges such as the rebalancing problem or the over-quantification of fleets. The MIT Autonomous Bicycle seeks to solve these problems by introducing an autonomous bicycle that can drive itself to the next user, reducing the need for rebalancing and optimizing fleet size.

System design and initial prototype

One of the key challenges in making a bicycle drive autonomously is self-balance. The MIT Autonomous Bicycle solves this problem by using an innovative mechanism that provides two different configurations: when in use, the bicycle configuration allows the experience to be the same as riding a regular bike. Then, for autonomous driving, it transforms into a tricycle that has the necessary stability to drive by itself. This transition is generated by two linear actuators that dynamically separate and rejoin the two rear wheels as needed. The prototype also includes the motors for its movement in autonomous mode: a drive motor for the propulsion and another motor for steering. The current prototype is operated through a remote control; next steps include further integrating the autonomy hardware and software.

Potential benefits

The MIT Autonomous Bicycle has the potential to offer numerous benefits to both operators and users of bike-sharing systems. For operators, the autonomous bicycle can reduce the need for fleet rebalancing, as bicycles can drive themselves to the next user or to regions where demand is predicted to occur. This reduces the economic and ecological costs of rebalancing, as well as optimizing fleet size. For users, the autonomous bicycle can offer a door-to-door service, eliminating the problem of finding available bicycles or docks. This greatly improves the bike-sharing experience, incentivizing more people to use shared bicycles for commuting and supporting a transition towards more livable and sustainable cities.

MIT Autonomous Bicycle Trike Bike Config
Two linear actuators dynamically separate and rejoin the two rear wheels as needed.

Challenges and future developments

Despite the potential benefits of the MIT Autonomous Bicycle, there are still some challenges that need to be addressed before it can be fully implemented in cities. One major challenge is safety. Since the bicycle will be driven autonomously, it needs to be equipped with advanced sensors and algorithms that allow it to safely navigate through the city. The bicycle must be able to detect and avoid obstacles, pedestrians, and other vehicles. Furthermore, the bicycle must be able to adapt to different weather conditions and road surfaces.

Another challenge is the cost of implementing the system. Autonomous technology is still relatively expensive, and the cost of equipping an entire fleet of bicycles with this technology could be prohibitive. However, as the technology improves and becomes more widely adopted, the cost is expected to decrease.

MIT Autonomous Bicycle Project MIT Campus
The prototype has already been successfully tested on the MIT campus.

Despite these challenges, the MIT Autonomous Bicycle has the potential to revolutionize transportation in cities. By providing a convenient and sustainable mode of transportation, it could help reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, and other negative effects of urbanization. It could also provide a more equitable transportation system by making it easier for people to access public transportation, offices, and other important destinations.


The MIT Autonomous Bicycle is a promising new technology that has the potential to transform transportation in cities. By providing an on-demand mobility solution for short commuting distances and first- or last-mile solutions, it could help reduce car-dependency and promote more livable and sustainable cities. The innovative self-balance mechanism and advanced autonomy technology make the MIT Autonomous Bicycle a unique research platform that could pave the way for the development of new micro-mobility systems.

The MIT Autonomous Bicycle is still in the development phase, but it has already demonstrated its potential through a full-scale functional prototype. Further developments are needed to address safety, cost, and other challenges, but with the right investments and collaborations, the MIT Autonomous Bicycle could become a reality in cities around the world. As the world continues to urbanize and face new challenges, innovative solutions like the MIT Autonomous Bicycle will be crucial in creating a more sustainable and equitable future.

The prototype can be seen in action in the video below.

Source: MIT Media Lab