Tracking Stolen Bikes With Narrowband IoT

For his entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, [Marin Vukosav] is working on an ambitious project to create a small GPS tracking device which utilizes Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) for long range communications. Rather than using a GSM modem which would suck the batteries dry in short order, NB-IoT can theoretically maintain a connection within a 10 to 15 kilometer range while keeping the energy consumption low enough that the tracker could go up to a year before needing to be recharged.

At this point, the hardware is still in the proof of concept phase. [Marin] is using an Arduino with a GPS shield and a SIM7000 NB-IoT module to experiment with the concept, but ultimately says he wants to shrink the hardware down to the point it could fit inside of a bike light. Looking even farther ahead, he’d like to make deals with bike manufacturers so the module could be integrated into the frame itself, where a thief wouldn’t be able to access it at all.

Of course, nothing says this technology has to be limited to bikes. If [Marin] can get it small enough, and reach even half of his goal battery life, he’d have a very compelling product on his hands. Who wouldn’t want to add something like this to their long-range drone in case it gets lost?

There’s still a long way to go on this project, and it’s not all hardware. [Marin] will also have to create the software side of things, a site where you can register your tracker and be able to view its near real-time position on the map. It’s a lot of work, especially if you’re planning on turning it into a commercial product, and we’re very interested to follow along and see where the project goes throughout the year.

36 thoughts on “Tracking Stolen Bikes With Narrowband IoT

  1. I’d upgrade the chip to a nRF91 as that has integrated NB-IoT and GPS, cutting down the clutter to just one or two antennas a chip, and the battery.

      1. Sometimes I am shocked at how some people have a radically different ethical system. James, please clarify — do you really mean to say that you think killing or seriously injuring someone is justified if they stole your bicycle or motorbike?

        It shocks me at the fraction of people who would answer “yes” without reservation. “Why yes I’d kill the son of a bitch who stole my TV if I had been there. If he didn’t want to die, he shouldn’t have taken my TV.” And as I live in Texas, these people would indeed be on the right side of the law, so long as it happened at night (oddly). Even if you are in no physical danger; even if the thief is unarmed and is running away empty handed, you can kill them if they were trying to steal from you.

        1. Like chop off the arm of the thief, preferably in a public square to discourage others from stealing. Some believers of this method will tell you it works well in parts of the world with this radically different ethical system and that the West would be well served to understand its simplicity.

          Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

        2. Remaining a civilized human being in the face of bike theft? You’re asking too much! As one undoubtedly sane person pointed out in the comments, stealing bikes is akin to slavery… smh

    1. The idea of NB-IoT is that the mobile telecommunications providers in your country will (or may, or may in some point in the future, or may not) provide the infrastructure.

      So you get “available everywhere” connectivity, but you don’t have to build the infrastructure yourself.
      You will need to pay for service, though.

      Sigfox would be another choice for comparison, also with the advantage that you have somebody else building the infrastructure.

      LoRa requires that you build the infrastructure yourself, or share that infrastructure with other people building it.

      1. Developer hologram sim card for the LTE Cat M1 / NB-IoT module (SIM7000), manage with a very low power controller (Moteino), setup on a server, sign up for a googlemaps API, code it to sleep unless in motion (like a mercury switch on an interrupt), add a USB charging port or a solar charge controller and battery, done.

    2. MB-IoT is bad energy-wise. In comparison to LoRa a handshake with the base station takes forever and usually TCP is chosen for connecting to some cloud, because the provider does not forward UDP. TCP needs ACK packets, which is also a bad thing energy-wise. TL;DR; with NB-IoT you spend a lot of your precious time-on-air for overhead. You just get more of your battery with LoRa.
      On the other hand, you need to build the whole infrastructure by yourself (if you do not want to use TTN).

    1. >”Though, why can’t police do anything about bike theft? I don’t know if I have ever heard of someone being arrested for stealing bicycles–and I am 53″

      In some jurisdictions you will be arrested and charged with the misdemeanor. In some jurisdictions, like CA, you can steal up to $950 worth of goods and not be charged with a felony. So if you don’t steal much, cops don’t care.

    2. In college I had my bike stolen. When my friend was driving me to the campus police station to report it, we passed an officer who had the thief pulled over on the side of the road. I proved the bike was mine and the thief was arrested. However, I doubt anything happened to the thief and he was on his way home (collected by his mother) before I was doing with filing the police report.

    3. Igor Kenk. Now you have. :) My wife’s bike was stolen off our porch in Toronto, and we actually got it back. We had to sift through two warehouses filled with recovered stolen bikes to find it, it was an amazing haul of bikes. Wikipedia says 3000 bikes were recovered, but being there and seeing the bikes it seemed like an order of magnitude more. So many bikes they just alphabetized them by the frame stickers and gave them back to anyone with any sort of a claim on it. We had a picture of us in the park next to our bikes, that was plenty of proof. Now if only I could get all my other stolen bikes back…

  2. Beyond the morality issue, I did mull this idea over when considering building a bicycle. Honestly, my biggest reservation isn’t so much legal repercussion so much as it is the ever-present “what if it fails?” consideration. Tripping up the dbag trying to steal my bike sounds funny and all, but having some bug decide to throw on the brakes while I’m on it does not.

    Though I haven’t started on the bike, I ended up deciding that it would be safer and more effective to just have the bike lock integrated in such a way that it would be difficult or impossible to defeat without damaging the bike itself.

    1. Did you ever figure out an integrated lock solution? I’ve seen some vanmoof bikes have a pin that goes through the axle near or inside the hub when stationary so to steal that bike you need to tear apart the rear wheel. The problem there is that a bike “stealth locked” looks like an unlocked bike. Joe average will think “a free ride home from the pub!” and then wreck your rear wheel. There needs to be a blend of integrated and obvious locking methods.

  3. There ought to be a way to harvest just enough of energy from the spinning wheel (not noticeable to the rider) to make your next transmission and not even need a battery. Or at least reduce the size of the battery considerably.

    I like the idea of integrating this into a bike computer so no-one notices.

    1. Stick magnets up the forks and a brush contact in or alongside the brake pad, other wire to axle and get Faraday dynamo action on braking, keep it topped off.

  4. Being a ham operator, I’d use APRS. It’s sad when you have to use more than one bike lock.
    Then you have thieves that cut locks off using a portable battery operated grinder and are gone in less than a minute.
    Seriously, I think anyone born after 1979 has no common sense. If it isn’t yours, leave it alone.
    Then again, you can’t fix stupid. Seems people these days do what they want and don’t give a crap about the consequences.
    I did read a story a few years ago where a ham operator had his car stolen. The car was sending out APRS info
    and the cops at first didn’t believe the man knew exactly where his car was. They did nail the guy though.
    I had a bike stolen, found it in a pawn shop so badly damaged I took the loss. I did find out who did it though.
    Let’s just say they weren’t happy to have met me. What’s sad is, people never learn.

    1. Since we’re making broad generalizations. I would have expected a fellow HAM to have researched before commenting. How do you explain the fact that in 1979 across the USA there was and avg 2,999.1 theft’s commited per 100,000 Americans, yet in 2017 only 1,694.4. That would imply that people born before 1979 we’re missing not only sense but a lack of factual information?

      Or is it that once you take off your rose colored glasses, one generation to the next, we all suck, .

      Even looking at estimated larceny total’s despite population growth.

      1979 6,601,000

      2007 6,591,542
      2008 6,586,206
      2009 6,338,095
      2010 6,204,601
      2011 6,151,095
      2012 6,168,874
      2013 6,018,632
      2014 5,858,496


  5. As a bicycle commuter, I’m happy living in the old world, where churches burn sometimes and where mostly nobody ever even touched a gun… Coz when an idiot driving a 2 tons stinking metal and plastics something (some people call that crap « car », but for me it’s « metalosorus » or « petrosaurus », or tank) looking her’s(his) phone and nearly killing me by not really watching the street, I can get a little upset and say what I think to that person (« go back to your playstation morron » or something like that), and here, I don’t get shot back (only with their eyes).
    For avoiding a bicycle to be stolen on the go, I ride recumbent, so to steal it, you must understand how to ride it ;o).

  6. This is good work, but the usage of such devices is very limited. At least here in Europe, my understanding is that you generally get 3 types of bike thefts:
    1. Professional networks, few guys coming with a van and hydraulic jaws, quickly break the chains from a few dozen bikes, put them in a van (where your GPS won’t work) and the offload them to a different country. Police from that other country will not bother, even if you tell them where it is. it is not worth it to travel there to chase it probably. Your device will likely run out of battery quickly anyway.
    2. your local, professional thief, who steals a bike here and there. Knows about tracking devices and will easily find and deactivate them.
    3. Some random event: drunk person moving it, throwing in the river. Police removing it for illegal parking etc. Very rare compared to 1 and 2, but only case where a tracker might work.

    My general guess is that if your bike is reasonably cheap, you just take the risk. If it is expensive, take on insurance.

    1. Depending on the bike if it is a cheap bike they may not be considering that it may even have a tracker on it

      If its expensive you should get a tracker in it (ideally 2, bike light type and internal)

  7. Hello!
    I’d like to use SIM7000 with Raspberry Pi Zero, but I can not able to use it, all of the tutorials failed or simply does not work…
    Does anyone who could help me please?
    I’ve already tried wvdial, too, but it does not work for some reason, either.
    Thank you in advance:

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