In most accidents between a car and a bike, drivers tend to say the same thing: They just didn’t see the cyclist until it was too late. A new app aims to help by automatically warning drivers several seconds before a bike is visible. Using the ubiquity of smartphones, the app creates a vehicle-to-vehicle communication network between cars, bicycles, and motorcycles on the road.
“You’ve probably had the experience that you’re driving your car, and all of the sudden a motorcycle passes you on the left, fast,” says Pere Margalef, one of the designers of the new BikeShieldApp. “You think if you’d just decided to change lanes, you would have hit this guy. So I thought, what if somehow before I even see him, I know that he’s coming?”
Other companies are also developing technology for communication between vehicles, but those rely on adding new hardware, like sensors, to both cars and bikes. “It’s too complicated,” Margalef says. “I know it will happen eventually–in 10 years, cars may be driving themselves and preventing accidents. But that’s too late. I’m riding my bike and motorcycle now, and I want to fix the problem now.”
Since smartphones have the technology necessary to track vehicles, the designers decided to make an app. The app uses GPS to follow each vehicle, and when any two vehicles are close enough that an accident could happen, the app sends a notification to the driver. It can be set to a simple sound effect, or can give a voiced warning that, for example, a bike is approaching on the right. The warning comes five to ten seconds before you actually see a bicycle or motorcycle.
Cyclists won’t get a warning, since it can be less safe to listen to messages while riding, and because someone on a bike doesn’t have the same speed or ability to respond as a car. But they can use the app in other ways, including to get a recommendation for the safest route based on the number of people on the road who happen to also have the app.
The biggest challenge will be getting enough people to use the app that it can truly protect those on the road. To help gain adoption, the app is free, and the designers hope to use tightly knit bike and motorcycle communities to reach out to friends who drive.
“When I bought my motorcycle, all my friends were freaking out, saying, ‘You’re going to kill yourself, don’t do this,'” explains Margalef. “So now I can say I found a solution to keep me safe. If everyone who rides a bike or motorcycle shares it with 10 people, that’s one way for car drivers to start using it.”
The designers also plan to work with car insurance companies to integrate the technology into their own apps, and ultimately hopes to build it into cars–either through technology like Apple’s new CarPlay, or by working directly with manufacturers. They also hope to integrate the function into navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps, so drivers will have it without downloading anything new.
“No one wants to be in an accident,” says Margalef. “But some drivers might not take the time to download the app, so we also want to integrate it by default.”
BikeShieldApp will be available in the App Store and Google Play Store on September 12.