Reinventing two wheels: Bike-safety technology is getting as technical as a Dave Brailsford team-talk
But will a new array of gadgets really make a difference on the busy city streets? Will Coldwell meets the inventors and the experts.
Wednesday 08 May 2013
As technology goes, cycling is pretty lo-fi. The same cannot be said, however, for the recent string of inventions hoping to make cyclists safer on the roads. Cycle Alert, which officially launches in August, is one such example.
Hoping to reduce collisions between cyclists and HGVs – which are involved in half of London's cyclist fatalities – the device consists of a motion-activated sensor on the bicycle which communicates with sensors on the HGV alerting the driver when a cyclist is present.
Entrepreneur Peter Le Masurier hopes Cycle Alert will solve the limitations of existing lorry sensor systems. "The current proximity sensors detect cyclists, but they also detect everything else," he explains. "It detects cars, railings, lampposts… some drivers were disconnecting the proximity sensors because they were driving them mad. Our products, however, only detect cyclists. It works around the entirety of the vehicle, covering all the blind spots. It's cheaper and, apart from one in the cab unit, there's no wires on the sensors."
Of course, the effectiveness of Cycle Alert depends on its uptake from cyclists, but Le Masurier hopes to achieve a critical mass by distributing thousands of free sensors. One of Britain's largest bicycle manufacturers has shown interest, while there is a possibility of future development in collaboration with the London cycle-hire scheme. "My dream and goal is very much to have this fitted at manufacture, to have it as a de facto safety product," he says.
When it comes to urban cycle safety, HGVs are the elephant in the room. Indeed, it was an incident in 2011 involving a lorry and the Times journalist Mary Bowers that launched that paper's high-profile campaign for cycle safety. It is no surprise then, that CycleAlert is not the only tech company attempting to tackle this large, yet still currently unresolved problem. Transport technology company ASL Vision combined the efforts of highly qualified scientists and engineers to develop a highly technical video device for the cabs of lorries.
The ASL360 uses a series of wide-angle cameras mounted around the vehicle to synthesise a real-time birds-eye view to be displayed in the cab so that the driver can easily assess the whereabouts of any surrounding vehicles or hidden cyclists.
Not all solutions are so complex. TrafficAngel started off supplying camera systems and proximity sensors before moving on to cycle safety. Its CitySafe alarm for lorries plays a repeating warning message whenever the driver intends to turn left, quite simply telling cyclists and pedestrians to keep clear. Simpler still is the Navevo satnav system for HGVs, which uses road data from Transport for London to flag up risky junctions and hotspots on the lorries' GPS whenever they are approaching an area or junction used by a high number of cyclists.
But, as any cyclist will tell you, there is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all solution. "It's a complex issue. There's no answer," says Carlton Reid, executive editor of BikeBiz.com.
"Cycling is a lo-tech thing. People designing these things have to keep it simple."
For Charlie Lloyd, campaigns officer for the London Cycling Campaign and a former HGV driver himself, technology can only ever play a supporting role in safety.
"We need to be careful of the conditioning effect of when people rely on a device, rather than to expect the unexpected. The advice to cyclists is to never assume you've been seen, even, unfortunately, if someone is looking straight at you."
Lights on: new safety gadgets
Polite Hi-Vis Jackets
These spoof police jackets have received praise from cyclists for tricking drivers into giving them the respect on the road usually only reserved for law enforcement. "These counterintuitive, daft inventions can often be the best," says Reid. "The Polite jacket does an enormous amount of good; of course we should be getting more police on bikes anyway…" Still, as Charlie Lloyd points out, "they wouldn't work if everyone had them!"
Volvo Cyclist Detection Facility
Announced last month, Volvo is planning to fit vehicles with a system that uses radar to detect cyclists and pedestrians and can apply automatic braking should the car come close to a collision. The safety-conscious car manufacture has also developed an airbag for front bonnets, designed to cushion cyclists or pedestrians should they be hit.
Similar to the Blaze device, above, this high-visibility bike light uses lasers to shine a path around the bike, encouraging drivers to give you a wide berth. Although the regular bike light on it is very high quality, the laser path is only really visible on an unlit road. "It's a neat little trick, but it's more of a political statement than a safety device," says Carlton Reid of BikeBiz.com.
Blaze Components Bike Light
This high-quality front bike light aims to increase the visibility of cyclists on the road by projecting the symbol of a bike onto the road ahead of the cyclist. The hope is that it will tackle the risk of getting caught in the blind spot of vehicles and it will become available in autumn.
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