Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Backtracker radar system warns cyclists of approaching cars

By

July 4, 2014

The Backtracker's front module alerts riders via an LED display

The Backtracker's front module alerts riders via an LED display

Image Gallery (4 images)

Cycling on the highway can definitely be a risky business. If riders are distracted or have the wind in their ears, vehicles rapidly approaching from behind can be almost right on top of them before being noticed. Gadgets such as mirrors and rear-view cameras can help, although riders still have to think to check them. The Backtracker, however, uses a radar signal to automatically alert cyclists whenever a car is closing in on them.

The Backtracker consists of two modules. One of them is mounted on the seatpost, and contains a 24-GHz radar antenna, an ARM processor and a 40-lumen tail light. Using Bluetooth LE, it communicates with the other module, which sits on the handlebars.

When an approaching car closes to within 140 meters (153 yards) of the back of the cyclist, its radar reflection is picked up by the rear unit. That box sends a signal to the one in front, which alerts the rider via a row of LEDs. As the car gets closer, its increasing proximity is indicated on that display.

At the same time that this is happening, the tail light also switches from its regular slow blinking mode to one that's more rapid, in order to catch the attention of the motorist.

The rear module contains the radar antenna, and features a tail light that blinks more rap...

The modules' batteries are charged via USB, with one charge lasting for a claimed eight hours of use. The charge level for both devices is indicated through the front display, when the system is first turned on. Down the road (no pun intended), it's possible that riders may be able to use their smartphone in place of the front module.

The Backtracker is being developed by a South Africa-based team, led by inventor Franz Struwig. They're presently in the process of raising production funds, via the Dragon Innovation website. A pledge of US$199 will get you a system, when and if they're ready to go.

You can see the Backtracker in use, in the following video.

Sources: Backtracker, Dragon Innovation via Make

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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8 Comments

Awesome!

znarF
4th July, 2014 @ 03:37 pm PDT

aside from the fact no one bikes on the highway as its illegal and upleasant, state roads do have cyclists getting hit. more often cyclists get hit from behind because of a turn or someone being invisible, rather than a car approach at extraodinary speed from quite an open distance behind.

it's unlikley this device is sophisticated enough or can interact properly with a cyclist in order to give the cyclist adaquate forewarning in the myriad of circumstances which lead to an accident.

furthemore most accidents with vehicles and people happen from the sides, not directly behind you.

more junky devices like this are just a poor attempt at adding technology to the bike. bike's are a preferred mode of transport due to their simplicty and cost effectiveness , not their over-arching comfort or safety.

while bicycles are relatively safe at speeds under 20km, you can always get hurt.

if you want to appropriately use radar in a situation to enhance safety the radar has to interact seamlessly with a driver, and most likely this can only be effective with an autonomous computer brain driving.

devices like these are in the nether region of impracticality.

good cycling hygein is a far better guarantee of your saftey as a cyclist.

and for final mention---the vast majority of cyclists bike in urban environments where a device like this would be entirely useless because there are constantly cars near bicycles so you would get a continuous stream of 'false positives' from the device due to other cars, and possibly even other bikes. most likely the notification system is audible and thus you have an annoying bike horn indicating someone or thing is behind or near your behind. this device would be a nuisance in the urban environment in which most people bike.

this thing , if it could be useful-----might be more useful for motorcycles or something on the highway, or simply as radar integrated into an autonomous driving system.

zevulon
4th July, 2014 @ 04:51 pm PDT

I can see scenarios where this could be useful and with quieter (electric) cars it would provide early warning something was behind; especially useful on urban or country roads, even in town.

Please forget about smart phone links, the system should be self contained.

Stuart Wilf Wilshaw
7th July, 2014 @ 03:48 am PDT

Agree very much with Zevulon's viewpoint.

I have been riding bicycle for more than forty years. Thanks to two simple low-tech mirrors fitted onto each side of the bicycle handlebar, I have always been able to see and continuously monitor the traffic conditions behind and around me and adjust my riding behavior accordingly - in the same way as when driving an automobile. As a result my cycling experience has been extremely safe, with zero incidents.

I am just wondering whether cyclists are not be better off relying more on their existing five senses - specifically vision and hearing - rather than on some supposedly new sixth sense.

tvtchen
7th July, 2014 @ 07:52 am PDT

Broadly speaking, Zev makes good points, that said there is still value here. This system needs to have a small camera slaved to it literally so that some photo evidence is collected as a car passes. He is correct in pointing out that most car-bike collisions are front & side. The division is 80-20, front 180 degrees, 20% rear. However I have always felt that any cyclist getting clipped from the front 180 is probably not paying enough attention and I therefore have less concern. Getting hit from the rear is much harder to anticipate and counter. BTW, the pictures collected have to have enough meta data associated with them to accurately calculate the bike's and car's vector & speed. This is essential to cut down on the crap that the rider swerved or turned or whatever. Cops are ALL inherently inclined to believe that the rider is at fault no matter what. I wish them luck with this.

StWils
7th July, 2014 @ 08:41 am PDT

@ Backtracker Radar.

Is this device available for wheelchair usage.

Michael Flower
7th July, 2014 @ 08:44 am PDT

so much better than a mirror

NOT

wle

wle
7th July, 2014 @ 09:36 am PDT

Apparently NASA spent huge amounts developing a pen that would write in zero gravity. Russian cosmonauts used pencils.I use a rear view mirror. Not only cheaper but way more efficient.

apprenticeearthwiz
9th July, 2014 @ 11:13 pm PDT
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