In the realm of interfaces, a screen isn’t always the answer. Increasingly, designers are experimenting with ambient UIs as way for devices to communicate with people in an unobtrusive, yet effective, way. The SmartHalo, a connected biking gadget, is one example of this theory in action.
Biking in the city is a full-on test of your ability to be hyperaware of everything going on around you: traffic, pedestrians, street signals, plus navigating city streets. Pulling out a smartphone to tell you where you need to go, following instructions on a screen, or listening to directions are added distractions that just aren’t smart from a safety perspective.
“The main challenge was creating a smart device that could offer multiple advanced features, while being as minimalist as possible,” Gabriel Alberola, the UX Director at SmartHalo, says. “While every other smart biking accessories often include screens, we decided to explore a new paradigm. Since the project’s inception, we knew we needed to create a user interface that would be able to communicate information at a quick glance.”
At its core, the SmartHalo uses a ring of different colored lights to tell you where to ride. It automatically pairs with your smartphone over low-energy Bluetooth when you get on the bike and turns itself off when you leave. Forget where you parked your bike? Not a problem: the app remembers where you left your ride.
The device is designed to be a permanent fixture on your handlebars, it’s weatherproof, and it attaches with a special tool making it nearly impossible to remove without it. If someone tries to steal the device, it starts flashing red lights to deter the thief. If he or she continues to tamper with it, then an audible alarm goes off. Plus, when it gets dark, a standard bike light turns on.
SmartHalo is also an activity tracker of sorts and can measure time spent riding, distance, calories, average speed, and elevation. Lastly, if you get a call or text, the gadget will flash a light to let you know. The whole ethos? You shouldn’t think about it; it should just do the work for you.
“We’re fans of Golden Krishna’s No Interface is the Best Interface viewpoint on design,” Alberola says. “Although some features of SmartHalo obviously require interacting with your phone, we wanted our users to spend as little time as possible on their phones to focus on what matters: the road. So, instead of having to open our app or tap a button to activate features, we’ve worked hard to make SmartHalo work as seamlessly as possible. In fact, most features work without even having to make a single tap. For us, its this kind of refinement that really makes our product smart.”
FitBit’s design also inspired some elements of SmartHalo. “Instead of going for an overly complex interface, they designed a super-sleek armband that could only display four dots,” Alberola says. “This focus on minimalism and simplicity played out well. It allowed them to sell their fitness tracker at a reasonable price and disrupt the market, while not having to make compromises in terms of the product’s quality or battery life—common objectives we share.”
SmartHalo is seeking finding on Kickstarter now and expects to launch in May 2016.