Even if you wear white clothing when you run or walk at night, drivers can’t see you until they’re about 300 feet away–close enough that it might not be possible to swerve. Little reflective strips on a jacket or running shoes don’t help much more. What will show up, though, is lighting yourself up like a Christmas tree: A streamlined new vest now on Kickstarter is covered in 60 LED lights that flash and change color in a way that’s visible from 1,000 feet away.
The project started when Kevin Winzer, a high school student at the time, wanted slightly less dorky safety gear to wear when he rode his motorcycle. He mocked up the first prototype, and then started chatting with a friend who was studying engineering in college.
“We kept seeing people running and wearing ratty construction vests,” says Seth McBee, who later co-founded the company with Winzer. “We started thinking about how to make safety cool, basically, make something that’s fun.” Over the next five years, the pair kept working on the design.
The result: The Verve, a V-shaped vest just wide enough to hold a set of lights that can flash, dim, and, if you get the deluxe version, change between 20 different colors. The outer layer is made of retroreflective material.
“It has passive visibility–headlights will bounce off if the LEDs aren’t on,” McBee says. “But in the case of headlights being burned out, or no streetlights around, you have the ability to ignite 60 LEDs in whatever color you want.”
McBee, who worked briefly as a nuclear engineer after finishing college, is now working full time on the Verve along with Winzer. If all goes well, they hope to put a local factory back to work–the vests will be manufactured in Liberty, Kentucky, by former employees of a clothing plant that shut down and moved to Taiwan nine years ago.
“I think this is something people will want,” says McBee. “We’ve tried to design something that people will actually want to wear. And it could save their lives.”