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Student-designed bicycle device designed to save lives

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June 10, 2011

BLAZE is a protype device that alerts drivers to the presence of a cyclist, by a projectin...

BLAZE is a protype device that alerts drivers to the presence of a cyclist, by a projecting a laser image onto the road in front of the bicycle
(Photo: University of Brighton)

Many people are afraid of riding their bicycles on busy roads full of motorized vehicles, and it's easy to understand why. Not only are bikes slower and offer less protection than cars, but they can also be more difficult for drivers to notice. A device invented by a British design student, however, could help level the playing field a little. It's called BLAZE, and it alerts drivers to the presence of a cyclist by projecting a laser image onto the road in front of the bicycle.

"Eighty per cent of cycle accidents occur when bicycles travel straight ahead and a vehicle maneuvers into them," said Emily Brooke, a final-year Product Design student at the University of Brighton. "The most common contributory factor is 'failed to look properly' on the part of a vehicle driver. The evidence shows the bike simply is not seen on city streets."

She designed BLAZE in order to get those cyclists seen. The device mounts on the handlebars of a bicycle (or a motorcycle or scooter), from where it shoots a bright green sharrow (shared lane) symbol onto the road, several feet ahead of the cyclist. That symbol is visible even in daylight, and can be made to flash on and off.

The idea is that motorists, even if they don't see the actual cyclist riding in their blind spot, will notice the image on the road and realize that a cyclist is behind/beside them.

Brooke consulted with road safety experts, Brighton & Hove City Council, the Brighton & Hove Bus Company and driving psychologists when designing BLAZE. The resulting invention has won her a paid-for course at Babson College in Massachusetts, where she will continue to develop the product. She has also been shortlisted for an Enterprise Award, for innovation.

"With BLAZE, you see the bike before the cyclist and I believe this could really make a difference in the key scenarios threatening cyclists' lives on the roads," she stated.

Emily's idea is reminiscent of LightLane, a bicycle-mounted prototype device that uses lasers to project a virtual bicycle lane beside and behind the user's bike. Instead of warning drivers that a cyclist is beside them, however, it's intended more to get drivers to give cyclists enough room on the road.

Source: Bicycle Design

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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22 Comments

I love riding bikes, I hate that bikes have to share the road, I don't think this will help much it might even be more distracting until people get use to it. I would have to think in real life that laser image would be blurry. if even noticeable.

Michael Mantion
10th June, 2011 @ 02:27 pm PDT

Aside from making more and better cycle lanes, the problem with cycling on roads is not a technical one, it is a legal one and the Netherlands has it sorted.

Dutch drivers speed, change lanes at will, hang on your back bumper like leeches, don't let you out a junctions and are quite happy to jump out for a bit of road rage and fisticuffs if you cut them up in a car.

What makes them such lambs when it comes to bicycles in the Dutch legal presumption that the cyclist is always in the right. Knowing that if you bash your car into someone who is unicycling naked the wrong way up a one way street at midnight with no lights it will still be your fault because you are in a car makes you a very watchful driver indeed.

It sounds weird, but in practice it works. Modern vehicles are like armoured cars built for racing, whilst cyclists really are unprotected. No car or truck driver is going to get hurt squashing someone on a bike. What the Dutch law does is even things up a bit.

Doug MacLeod
11th June, 2011 @ 01:12 am PDT

If they don't see a biker, what's going to make them see a projected image of a biker signal on the ground. There a lot of things going on. I'm sure a flashing light on the ground is not going to make that much of a difference for a very drunk, distracted, or sleepy driver.

Evan Webb Stuart
11th June, 2011 @ 01:57 am PDT

I tried to build my own, having seen something like this before (online). But it only projects a red dot. Maybe I need some kind of lens or prism to project lines?

Anyway, I managed to pry a red laser element out of a $3.00 toy spinning top. This toy top had a centrifugal switch built in so the laser would not light unless the top was spinning, and even then, it was project downward, so it could not accidentally blind anyone. Interesting way of building in a safeguard.

Anyway, I removed the laser LED, and mounted it in a candy mint tin, and wired up a battery holder and a mini SPST switch. It uses three AAA batteries. The main drawback is that it gets hot after about five minutes, and begins to get dimmer. The device is mounted on my bike's left rear pannier and projects a red dot about fifteen feet behind my bike.

I think the device is more needed *behind* the bike, since I already have adequate headlights.

James Donohue
11th June, 2011 @ 11:02 am PDT

Looks like it needs high powered green lasers which would make it illegal in Australia, due to some idiots using lasers to try to blind aircraft pilots.

Pity, it looks like a neat idea.

Wombat56
11th June, 2011 @ 08:30 pm PDT

Yes, the idea is good but not practical. The laser and the laser image will distract other road users.

David Wong
11th June, 2011 @ 10:53 pm PDT

I've never seen this in use, of course, so I can't say much about how visible it would be. If it's a quite sharp and bright image, this might have some effect, but not a significant one. The trouble is the psychology of driving a car. The driver is separated from the surroundings inside a comfortable safety cage listening to the music of choice, while landscapes pass by quickly, seeming frozen while the only apparently mobile objects are the continuous stream of other cars, all behaving predictably and sorting themselves out. This does not promote an alert attitude. All you have to do, mostly, is make sure you stick to your lane. Driving is mostly a very easy chore that demands little effort and no talent at all.

Enter bicycles. They move quite quickly, as quickly as cars in urban areas. BUT they lack the visual volume and the two bright lights far apart in each corner. The car driver has been lulled into the habit of only worrying about such configurations: Big volumes with lights in each corner, conveniently making it easier to judge distance. Bicycles (and partly motorbikes) do not compute in the head of the driver. They are in effect actually invisible to a large number of car drivers. This is NOT an exaggeration. Lots of years and very many kilometres on bikes and in cars have proven this to me, from both sides.

There are some possible ways to remedy the consequences of this lack of attention.

- Completely separate bike traffic from car traffic.

- Make bikes way more visible.

- Make car drivers more attentive.

- Build bikes with indestructible cages.

Not all of those possibilities are realistic or effective enough. I think bike visibility can have an important effect, but maybe it should be by vividly coloured flags above the bike or so. Higher up than the general traffic. I don't know. A bit of light on the tarmac, well, maybe? The point that is actually the right one though is that car drivers generally are not attentive enough, by far. Valid towards more than bikes too.

I think what Doug says above here about the car ALWAYS getting the blame, iif it hits a bicycle (or a pedestrian) no matter how and where it happened, would raise the level of attention significantly! It would remove some of the "safe feeling" in a car. The driver might fear pedestrians or bicyclists might want to fake accidents to make money out of it. Well, maybe some will, if they're stupid enough, but that will make the inattentive majority of car drivers wake up! Good. Go for it!

Stein Varjord
12th June, 2011 @ 01:59 am PDT

This isn't a new idea by any means, and the only person who will see the projected image in traffic will be the cyclist.

mommus
13th June, 2011 @ 06:55 am PDT

Just put a green flasher on top of your helmet.

Bob Tackett
13th June, 2011 @ 06:56 am PDT

In my view & experience as a motorist monitoring just about every corner around my cockpit whilst in motion & usually in Cruise control mode, I am of the view and opinion that cyclists of today's age & era, that tries to dabble between vehicles in congested highways and narrow lanes, should be better highlighted!!!

By this, I mean more illumination on the person and/or the cycle he/she is peddling or scootering on.

These days, in some countries where 24/24 lighting is a default requirement, the VERY bright but costing much less in power outage is applied through LED lighting mounted inside vehicle headlamps.

I may spot that green beam but would not say that for an illiterate and or ignorant, careless or inconsiderate driver that pretends to feel he/she is the only road user on any road conditions.

Thus, a considerable / adequate string of low consumption LED lightning mounted on a cycle, scooter and bike would be a strong noticeably distraction albeit through the side mirrors or rear inside mirror.

If most do notice the flashing lights creeping up from behind by a Police or ambulance... to then cruise aside to let them through, it would work from this same basic principle.

flechd
13th June, 2011 @ 07:22 am PDT

The Duch way is not bad: They mostly separate the bikes and brom fietsers (little moto bikes) from the roads for cars and lorries as well as the bus lanes. Regarding that the Netherlands has one of the highest population density (similar area like Switzerland but about 2.5 times the people) in Europe they suffer from dense traffic and lots of jams. Many Dutch people therefore prefer to use bikes to commute, even if it is only to cycle to the train or bus station.

A wide use of bikes is not liked by people because they are exposed to bad weather conditions and its results, as e.g. water, snow or ice on the cycle paths.

There would much more people using bikes if communities would have separate cycle paths with at least partial roof covering.

Newton2k1
13th June, 2011 @ 09:07 am PDT

Yeah, lets give everyone a green laser and head to the local airport. Or the highway. Problem I see is that mirrors don't point to the highway surface in the lane over. Mirrors point to the space above the lane where the vehicle might be. Thus to be useful, the laser would have to beam at the mirror( refer to first 2 sentence)

Bob has it right. a flashing non-laser light- duh!!!

Walt Stawicki
13th June, 2011 @ 09:42 am PDT

The main problem is the neglecting habit of drivers and the false estimation of bike speed. Even they realize a cyclist on the road most of them believe that they are very slow.

The projected sign may alert a few percent of the drivers, but the others will not understand it. I mean, they could notice it but they will not know what to do or how to act. So they will ignore it.

It's a common problem of US car drivers that they are not prepared for emergency or even risky situation at all.

The drivers permit exam here in the US is a joke, they have to learn mostly what penalties they should pay for violation of traffic rules, but they don't have useful practical training.

Maybe some high contrast visibility device on the bike or the cyclist clothing could help, or a loud horn?

Imhof Iván
13th June, 2011 @ 10:43 am PDT

The most common accident is a driver not seeing the bicycle when making a turn, often pulling past the cyclist and then turning over them. This device does nothing to alert the inattentive driver which is what is needed. A loud motorcycles is safer as people are likely hear the bike even if they cannot see it.

A yellow flashing strobe light is the only thing that a motorist is trained to slow down for and exercise caution. And it needs to be large enough to register in the driver's brain as something to avoid.

In China they do it right and provide separate scooter (most are electric) and bicycle roadways that are physically separated from the roadways for buses, truck, and cars.

Calson
13th June, 2011 @ 11:05 am PDT

She has a super idea , now ADD Vehical Avoidence that signals the Car's Truck's etc through the electronics Audibly already in the vehicals .

David Walker
13th June, 2011 @ 01:08 pm PDT

There is now a more or less standard visual language regarding lights used on vehicles which operate legally on the roads of the world (sometimes in theory in developing countries): Red means stop, amber means slow, green means go steady red is baseline, more intense means braking, a blinking light, usually amber on the right side of two rear red lights means turn right, etc. (in the EU vehicles need a supplementary blinking amber light on the side of the car). This also applies to motorcycles even with their small light cluster and a bit of it applies to bicycles, with a red steady light, amber reflectors on pedals and amber or white reflectors on spokes, or reflective sidewalls describes a typical situation. And also what is typical is that all of these vehicles including bikes have a steady front white light.

It is difficult to maintain this language, or keep fluency high, in particular with bikes (even in Berlin, where I live).

So then some people with the best intentions want to invent a new word, so to speak. So I say that they need to go to the safety analogue of the famous panel of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and prove that 100 or just 10 times a new device has saved lives, and not at the expense of anyone else.

I have some thoughts on this here: http://greenideafactory.blogspot.com/2010/09/dont-believe-hyper-illumination.html

Todd Edelman
13th June, 2011 @ 07:02 pm PDT

@Doug, "Absolute liability" for drivers in the Netherlands is a myth: Only children are guaranteed to be not a fault. Though drivers still bear responsibility in a majority of collisions, Dutch drivers do not drive around thinking about how they might be liable. The kids get protected because it is their nature to be unpredictable and relatively less skilled. Conditions for cycling are safe there largely due to an ongoing quest to make bike infrastructure there better and better -- this complements generally good training which comes in part from a situation where almost everyone rides a bike at least occasionally Social tolerance of driving which endangers cyclists is also low. Subjective safety and not just objective (thinking about statistics) safety is high.

Not to say the situation is perfect as cycle training is slacking off with some children in some areas - there is a great variety of bike mode shares in the country - and even in some communities in the south helmets are now being promoted.

There are of course also jams of motor vehicles but it is hard to force people not to drive. The Dutch strategy at its best is to make cycling irresistible.

Todd Edelman
13th June, 2011 @ 07:34 pm PDT

From Evan Webb Stuart:

"I'm sure a flashing light on the ground is not going to make that much of a difference for a very drunk, distracted, or sleepy driver"

Can we put a figure on the percentage of drivers who are "drunk, distracted, or sleepy"?

If this device alerts the people who are not, then many accidents will be averted.

Ian Colley.

Terotech
14th June, 2011 @ 12:58 am PDT

What is really needed is a small billy club that can reach out and fend off divers who are about to turn into the path of approaching cyclists. In all seriousness, the lane departure warning in some new cars could easily be upgraded to warm of approaching cyclists (particularly at at the right rear of the vehicle - in North America).

Muraculous
14th June, 2011 @ 06:42 am PDT

Actuall - in the as depicted scenario in the picture - this is a fundamentally, not stupid, but a kind of misguided and more or less worthless idea.

I am not saying that it is totally worthless - or all the time pointless - but most drivers in bumper to bumper traffic - are looking straight ahead, at eye level - they have bonnets restricting the shorter range vision and they only tend to look for big shapes.

This is also when they have a tendency to make sudden lane changes and turns.

For the most part the lazer lane marker will not be visible, noticed or looked for.

I also think that in BRIGHT sunny weather it's effectiveness will be greatly diminished.

I think the "Fail Point" is that it shines on the ground.... which is not where drivers tend to look when about to turn or lane change.

I think a bright florescent mesh workers waistcoat with big reflective stripes and a flashing LED head, side and light will be more effective and efficient all around.

What she has come up with is not a bad idea - but I think practicality over rides optimism.

Mr Stiffy
14th June, 2011 @ 06:41 pm PDT

Is it practical?

JA
27th June, 2011 @ 07:43 am PDT

If d-bags would quit driving cars, or car drivers would quit being d-bags, you wouldn't need to try to invent anything with lasers and stuff. We already have neon shirts and reflective gear, and dbags still say they "didn't see him" when they indiscriminately run down a bicyclist and get caught. This laser hologram thing will probably just cause dbags to stare at the green thing while running into cyclists.

Facebook User
28th September, 2011 @ 11:27 am PDT
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