The first prototype is almost fully assembled! Shown here is the ultrasonic sensor mounted in the temporary (prototype) casing with LEDs wrapped around the edge, lighting up as objects get closer to the radar sensor. This will be mounted to the seat-post of the bicycle facing backward, with an additional unit mounted to the handlebars for initial testing.
In the video, we're using an Arduino board (temporarily) while working on getting a Teensy board set up properly for the ultrasonic radar sensor. The goal right now is to have it ready on Friday before the long weekend so I can take Velalert out for its first test drive!
I met up with the Radicand team today to check in on the prototype progress and got to see the 3D-printed casings for the radar sensor and for the handlebar unit. We got a new, smaller board to use for this prototype, and it didn't work quite the same as the Arduino board, so the prototype wasn't ready to install onto my bicycle just yet. However, if everything goes well, I'll be strapping this prototype onto my bicycle mid next week and will be able to take the first Velalert prototype out for a spin!
"Rapid prototyping" has gone a little slower than anticipated, but we're getting close to the first working prototype to strap onto a bike and start doing some user-testing. This is a CAD model of the enclosure for the radar sensor, which will be strapped onto the seat-post of the bicycle, facing backward. The center piece in black is the radar transceiver, (transmitter and receiver) and the red dots around it are LEDs to light up and alert the driver of an oncoming vehicle if it's approaching too quickly.
Next we decided to rig the ultrasonic transceiver to a bicycle and do our first user-testing with the proof-of-concept. Unplugged it from the computer, found a 9-volt battery to power it, and used masking tape to attach it all to the bicycle.
About two months ago I decided to start researching the development of a radar system for bicyclists to help them gain more awareness while riding out on the road. I know for myself it's always a little jarring when a car goes whizzing past unexpectedly, And the number one cause of bicycle accidents is being hit from behind.
I spent the next couple of weeks putting together basic product feature requirements and meetings with engineering consultants. I don't have the expertise in radar technology required to make Velalert a reality, so I decided to hire Radicand, a design "collaboratory" and consulting firm, based in Redwood City, CA. They'll help determine the right radar technologies to use to provide the functional requirements and get functional prototypes up and running. We had our first meeting two weeks ago to discuss these functional requirements and some initial trade-off considerations associated with various radar options. We had our second meeting on Tuesday last week, and have settled on two different technologies to use for initial prototyping. We may ultimately build two different products based on how each of them turn out.
Once the ordered parts arrive, Radicand will start assembling the first iteration of the prototypes and I'm hoping to have one ready to strap onto my bike in a week or two! I'll put it through some user testing and we'll use the feedback to improve on the next iteration. One of the important considerations we're exploring in this first iteration (in addition to the radar technology) is the "user interface" ... how the system communicates information to you while you're riding. We'll be testing out visual, auditory, and tactile methods to see which of them, or combination of them, is able to quickly and easily communicate necessary information without being distracting or cumbersome.
In addition to being able to alert the rider when objects are approaching from the rear, we're also planning for the system to attempt to alert the oncoming driver as well. And there's another feature that we're planning on adding to the system once we get the primary stuff taken care of: a camera to record "evidence" in case of a collision. Coupled with the radar technology, the system will be able to snap some photos just prior to a collision event, that way in the case of a hit-and-run or in the situation of the drivers word against the riders, there's additional evidence to help properly identify the culprit.
I'm very excited about the initial progress made so far and where we're headed. It's been great working with the team at Radicand and I look forward to being able to test our first proof-of-concept on my bicycle very soon!
The Velalert logo was finished this week and I started publishing it on the website and all the various social media channels. To develop the logo, I decided to run contest on 99designs to get some extra design ideas. Once the first week was done, I selected five of the best designs and had the designers do another round of iterations based on feedback. From there, I settled on the winner, and Velalert now has a new logo:
In addition to vehicle collision avoidance technology for luxury cars, several automobile manufacturers are looking to upgrade these systems to be able to detect cyclists as well as vehicles. I found this article last week on ePEDALER from earlier this year: Volvo, Jaguar Developing Pioneering Cyclist Alert Systems. The article discusses how state laws that require vehicles give cyclists minimum of three feet of clearance (just recently passed here in California) still doesn't solve the problem, and Lincoln NE is pushing for LB 39 to be passed, which would require cars to move into an opposite lane when passing a cyclist, just as if they were passing another automobile.
Volvo's strategy is interesting, using sensors in bicycle helmets to communicate back to receivers in the vehicle. They revealed this at International CES in Las Vegas in January of this year. This strategy will certainly be accurate, though it requires cyclists to adopt new helmets with sensors, which will take a very long time to change over, if it ever catches on.
Jaguar Land Rover is building 'Bike Sense' which is presumably a part of the radar-based collision avoidance system, but uses unique sounds and ways (tapping on the shoulder) to alert the driver of the vehicle that they are close to a cyclist. Bike Sense research is being developed at Jaguar Land Rover's Advanced research Centre in the UK. Concern over cyclist safety on roads has grown tremendously in the last couple years, particularly in the UK where almost 19,000 cyclists are killed or injured every year in automobile accidents.
It's great to see the automobile manufacturers attempting to solve this very real problem. We've got some great ideas on how to help make cycling safer, and are excited to start experimenting with some of them very soon!