In cities, where cycling is often the cheapest and easiest form of transport, bike parking space is at a premium. There's little worse than approaching work or a train station with a pit of fear in your stomach lest all the racks are full, or, worse, you have to lug a bike to the first floor of a rickety multi-storey bike rack.
In Japan, though, the authorities have come up with a solution, in the form of a new system of underground bicycle parking. Users set up an account with Eco Cycle, the system's operator, and are issued a chip which is attached to the bike's frame. When the cyclists wheel their bike towards the entrance to the parking, the system recognises the bike, grips the front wheel and whizzes it underground to an available parking space.
Better yet, when you touch your account card to a reader at the entrance, the machine brings your bike back to the surface.
Here's a cross-section of the underground system:
Image: Eco Cycle.
This video goes into a bit more detail, and shows the bike's journey through the underground system (it also includes a few inexplicable anime characters):
The system has the added benefit of protecting the bike from weather or theft – though it could be vulnerable if someone hacks into the system or steals your account card.
Of course, the system doesn't come cheap, and users have to pay a fee to use it – but as transport innovations go, a secure system for storing hundreds of bikes without using up above-ground space seems like a pretty good idea.