For a truck driver inside a large semi on a city street, a big part of the road is invisible: Blind spots can reach as far as the length of the entire trailer on one side. A dozen cyclists can pull up next to a truck without ever being seen. A new sensor system alerts both drivers and cyclists who might be oblivious anytime there’s a chance of an accident.
Although a few sensor systems for trucks already exist, they’re not common, and they don’t work particularly well. “They all focus on warning the driver, whereas the cyclist is the most maneuverable and would be the obvious person to warn,” says Martin Keane, a designer in Glasgow who began working on the project as a student.
“Other sensor systems pick up a lot of railings and parked cars and trees, so they can provide a lot of false warnings, which in the end will cause drivers to ignore them,” he adds. The Cyclesafe, instead, uses sound waves to detect bikes, and then flashes a warning both inside the cab and on the side of the truck, so the driver can brake and the cyclist can move.
“I was down in London and lucky enough to get inside one of large HGVs [a semi] and realize just how big all of the blind spots are around the vehicle,” Keane explains. “That kind of opened my eyes. But talking to cyclists, they didn’t seem to have that same insight. So this was about trying to warn them they were in danger.”
After successfully testing the system in the lab and at the side of a road, Keane is now looking for funding to finalize the software so it can be tested in trucks. Ultimately, he hopes that it can be plugged into all trucks. In London, where heavy goods vehicles killed nine cyclists last year, the mayor is pushing to quickly implement proposals like this.
A better idea might be getting huge trucks off city streets or building fully separated bike lanes. But the sensors could help. “Ideally, cyclists would have their own lane,” says Keane. “I think cycle lanes are a good thing. But they’re a huge investment in infrastructure, so if a small sensor system in a lorry can make a difference, I think that’s great as well.”