Motorcycle brake lighting system doesn't care how you're slowing down
Vololights is a brake lighting system for motorcycles, that illuminates even when the rider is slowing down by downshifting or engine braking
California-based engineer Faizal Ali was riding his motorcycle on a San Diego freeway one day and downshifted in order to slow for an exit. Because he didn’t actually apply the brakes, however, his brake light didn’t come on. As a result, the following car almost ran into him. That experience prompted him to partner with Jesse Szynal and designer Fausin Mdisa to create Vololights – it’s a rear lighting system that activates no matter what method the rider is using to decelerate.
Vololights is integrated into a user-installed rear license plate frame. Contained within that frame are eight red LEDs, a microprocessor, and a 3-axis accelerometer. A white LED also provides continuous illumination of the license plate.
After being calibrated by the user upon its initial installation, Vololights will be able to detect any noteworthy decrease in speed, whether it’s caused by downshifting, engine braking, or simply application of the brake levers.
If the rate of deceleration indicates a normal braking scenario, the Vololights’ two rows of four red LEDs will flash alternately at a rate of two times per second – this just alerts drivers to the fact that the motorcycle is slowing. If the bike decelerates very quickly, however, the lights will flash five times a second, letting drivers know that they have to react fast in order to avoid an accident.
An algorithm running in the microprocessor is designed to filter out false alarms, such as when the rider is slowing the bike while descending steep hills.
The designers are now raising production funds for Vololights, on Kickstarter. A pledge of US$79 will get you a system, when and if they’re ready to go. More information is available in the pitch video below.
Sources: Vololights, Kickstarter
About the Author
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
It's been done, 35 years ago. It was called the Cyberlight, and it worked on mercury switches which would change the speed of the flashing with the amount of deceleration. It worked very well, so well that one city in California mounted them on alot of their municipal vehicles. But the NHSTA got in the act and deemed them all illegal by a law which stated that brake lights cannot flash. It killed the initial product, all because some bureaucrat got his knickers in a twist. I have to wonder how many people died in the past 35 years because of whoever it was that made that decision. You can get a glimpse of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAXD64g1D4Q
Excellent idea for increased motorcycle safety.
However, imho, it should also be a safety requirement on cars.
Brilliant idea, I wish you guys well in your venture. I hope to see Vololights on the market in Australia. There's a challenge for you, the international market, we have 2 or 3 different licence plate sizes here alone!
Again all the best with this brilliant idea.
Jim Hall used this on his automatic transmission Chaparral Can-Am race car in the 1960s. Jim used a blob of mercury in a curved tube which made contact with the positive brake light wire completing the circuit whenever the car decelerated.
Before the word got out, fellow racers thought he was having brake trouble and thus sat back waiting for Hall's car to leave the track.
Yeah, great idea! However, two thots: first, you need much brighter LEDs, guys. I could barely see them in the video where the sun was shining on them. Second, think about other locations to mount this other than the license plate... on the back of helmets would be a great place, IMO... or just re-design the module so that it can mount anywhere, including above or below the plate. Good luck!
It's bad enough on motorways when people follow too closely and keep dabbing the brakes, causing a ripple effect down the line and speed to drop off and/or people to panic and brake too hard because they've seen lights.
There is nothing more annoying then seeing brake lights going on/off in front of you every 2 minutes for no good reason, it would be ten times worse with this system!
Standard practice is to tap your brake briefly before downshifting. Out of basic courtesy to the driver behind you. ' The tap alerts the driver in the car following you that you just braked a bit. Otherwise he has to do a hard panic brake.
Looks like Faisal Ali doesn't know this.
For all of us that like to downshift please follow this practice even if you are downshifting in a car. Tap your brake lightly and briefly, then downshift.
Faizal here, to Alex comments, we definitely considered your concern. We set the trigger points at two points. We selected the trigger points so that it does not come too often that it desensitizes other drivers. We also turn off immediately when it sense acceleration, e.g. when you slow down to take a turn and and accelerates. The LEDs are selected with a narrower angle so that only the driver behind you sees it but less distracting to the adjacent lane driver.
To Sidmehta comments, we're simply automating what you and I both agree something all drivers should do.
Thanks for the feedback guys!
Much like the Vovedesky Cyberlight from decades ago. Ahead of its time I suppose. Even a decelleration without a downshift can suprise people, so this update may be a good thing, but nothing new. There is also Safe Ride and the P3 systems.
Bruce H. Anderson
30 years as motorcycle instructor: Engines make bikes go. Brakes make bikes slow down and stop.
Use the 79 bucks to take professional training...
I've learnt something today just reading this, I'll be more weary of being behind a bike from now on.
It's about time we made use of technology like this, I'd love to fit this to my car.
Just remember high level brake lights were a gimmicky accessory when they first came out, now lots of cars have them built in.
Suggest you guys think about licensing the technology to car manufactures !
Great idea guys!
Great idea! I want one for my bike. Have you thought about earning some capital via Shark Tank? I'm sure you could win the sharks over.
We've given some thoughts into it but have never seriously pursued it. We might look into it if we have a successful campaign here.
We're thinking about it..
I agree with sidmehta, I thought that was common knowledge.
I am pretty sure that any flashing lights other than indicators are illegal in Australia
I can't believe the negative comments about this excellent invention. In regards to the ripple effect, it's because 90% of drivers nowadays are tailgating jerks who deserve to be forced to pay attention instead of zipping in and out of lanes while texting. If that ticks them off, tough.
That being said, as a former biker I respectfully suggest you quit biking, Faizal. It puts you at the mercy of fools, and minds like yours should not be subject to such risk.
@Alex: "There is nothing more annoying then seeing brake lights going on/off in front of you every 2 minutes for no good reason"
I can tell you what's more annoying, getting in an accident because you didn't have sufficient warning.
This is a needed addition for electric vehicles as well. Only TESLA motors strobes the stoplights during regenerative braking. My Mitsubishi MiEV slows down faster than average traffic when I engage full regen while approaching a stop light, but I don't have to touch the brake pedal above about 12 mph. (And sorry, a tap on the pedal doesn't suffice for the average distracted follower.) Please make it in a standard US frame size as well.
@Fritz, Ele Thanks for your support.. I love riding too much to quit.. but you're right, distracted driving is an epidemic in the US right now.
@Alex.. Your concern is valid. I spent a lot of time actually thinking and testing your concern. It's actually a pretty tough problem. We know ABS engages at about 7 m/s^2 in dry condition, but we also know from NHTSA studies that most rear end accidents happens at deceleration rate lower than that. There are no published studies on what is the right deceleration rate it should come on so we had to do a lot of experimentation. If it comes too often, people will ignore it, if it comes too late- well then it defeats the whole purpose of the whole product. So we selected two rate that we thought was the right trigger point. We also selected LEDS that will minimize annoying the drivers in the adjacent lane.
We also patented a system so that the device figures out if you're in stop and go traffic and would turn OFF the system until you get moving again- this is not avail in this particular system but will be avail in the module if we get this kickstarter project off the ground. (First product focused on ease of assembly)
I welcome positive and negative feedback as long as it's not personal. I learn from it. I try to think of possible issues with the product but of course.. I'll miss a few things..
Engineers are like poets, always seeking perfection, but never achieving it..
This device might also encorporate a "faster than humanly perceptible" flash rate, which is not that high and change it per braking rate. That way a mechanism in a following vehicle (think car with this in audio), permits the follower to optionally choose whether the 'flashing' bothers or not.
This can save lives big time. I know exactly what it feels like to downshift and bring a bike from 45 mph to 15 mph as i was about to turn into a parking lot. Apparently the really stupid don't notice a blinking turn signal and trust me when they slam you in the rear they tend to panic and step on the gas. Ever been half under a car at 30 mph? It hurts.
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