Seven years ago, as a product design student at the University of Brighton in the U.K., Emily Brooke was riding her bike when a white van started to move into her path. Brooke realized that the driver couldn’t see her–and began to wish that there were a way to project a virtual image of herself farther down the road. The experience inspired a new type of bike light. As it lights up a rider’s path at night, the light also projects a glowing green bike icon 20 feet ahead on the pavement, looking a little like a temporary bike lane.
With the light, “quite simply, drivers–particularly of [trucks], buses, and vans–are able to see cyclists where they otherwise would have been in the blind spot,” says Brooke, now CEO of a startup called Beryl that makes the light. The laser projection can also make cyclists more visible to pedestrians and make drivers more likely to give cyclists more space on the road, since it’s the width of a bike lane.
Brooke launched the first product, initially called the Blaze, on Kickstarter. The light was successful enough that the company is now launching an updated version, called the Laserlight Core, that’s lighter, easier to mount and remove from handlebars, and that can project a clearer image. “We wanted to capture the improvements in laser technology, delivering a better quality and more defined laser projection,” she says.
The basic intervention seems to work. After London ran a pilot with the lights on some of its bikeshare bikes, the city’s transportation agency, Transport for London, commissioned an independent study about their effectiveness. They found that the lights made riders more visible than regular bike lights. At night, a cyclist with a standard LED light is about 65% visible to someone driving a van, but someone with the new light is about 97% visible, according to the study. Bus drivers said that the light made it easier to spot cyclists; 75% of cyclists felt more confident with the light. The lights have now been installed throughout the city’s bikeshare fleet.
The company also ran a pilot with CitiBike in New York (this hasn’t yet been expanded because of budget constraints, Brooke says). It’s also piloting the light with the Bixi bikeshare system in Montreal, and will soon launch in the Glasgow bikeshare in Scotland.
The lights don’t change the fact that better infrastructure–like fully separated bike lanes–would also make it much safer for people to ride bikes in cities, and would encourage more people to ride. But Brooke believes that better lights can be a factor in getting more people on bikes. “We believe that there are several levers we can pull to get more people choosing cycling as their primary mode of transport in the city,” she says. “Personal safety is one of those, and we are dedicated to tackling the issue and creating more products to enable cyclists to be as visible and as safe as they can. However, infrastructure and access to a bike are also two fundamental elements of getting more cyclists on the streets, and we will support those strands of work as best we can, in parallel.”