If you’re riding in a bike lane and a car is getting too close behind you–or if someone suddenly pulls out in front–a new bike will warn you, vibrating the bike seat or the handlebars to tell you to pay closer attention.
The smart bike is the brainchild of the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), a Dutch agency that is piloting several technologies designed to help eliminate fatal crashes in traffic.
In the Netherlands, where bikes outnumber people and traffic jams in bike lanes are common, the new bike may be most useful in preventing crashes between two cyclists, rather than cars. But the system can detect any type of obstacle.
On the front of the bike, radar mounted below the handlebars detects the range and speed of oncoming obstacles. In the back, a camera system attached to the rear fender uses image processing to detect multiple vehicles at the same time. An advanced algorithm crunches the data, filtering out which obstacles are important and calculating how much time is left before a potential crash.
If an obstacle is in front, the handlebars vibrate. If something’s coming from behind, the saddle vibrates. The system is based on the simple fact that most accidents happen because the people involved don’t see them coming. “Many severe accidents with cyclists can be prevented by informing or warning the cyclist,” says Maurice Kwakkernaat, a researcher at TNO.
TNO is also working on complimentary solutions for cars, like external airbags that can inflate in a crash to protect a cyclist. Sensor systems inside vehicles can also detect cyclists to warn drivers, and even automatically brake at crosswalks.
The new bike was designed to be especially helpful for elderly cyclists, who are at greatest risk of injury or death on crowded bike lanes in places like Amsterdam. “In the Netherlands elderly people cycle more and longer, which is party caused by the introduction of electric bicycles,” says Kwakkernaat. “At the same time the number of severe bicycle accidents is rising.”
But the bike could also be equally useful for others. “The developments are also very useful for people with disabilities such as bad hearing or sight, or people who have difficulties in moving their head to see other traffic approaching from behind,” Kwakkernaat explains. “Younger people also show a lot of interest in this.”
The bike runs on an electric motor, and also has a cradle for a tablet that can provide more warnings. After a little more development–as the researchers try to improve things like the weight of the bike, which is currently a hefty 55 pounds–it should be on the market within a couple of years. It won’t be cheap; the expected price is between $2000-$4000.