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Projecting signals onto your back as you cycle: is Cyclee a shining beacon of safety?

A device that uses lasers to project symbols on cyclists’ backs at night time is being hailed as a potential great leap forward for cyclist safety and respect between cyclists and drivers.

Cyclee is just a concept for now, but the idea is that it can interpret a rider’s actions and project a relevant symbol on to the rider’s back.

This might include indicating turns or braking, but it’s also customisable using a mobile app, so the cyclist can load any message they want.

It attaches to your bike’s seatpost and sticks out and up like a robotic dog’s tail.

So far, this all sounds reasonable enough. Anything that helps drivers avoid cyclists is good, right?

Cyclee projects onto a rider's back

Cyclee’s mobile app

I’m not convinced

Does this device help night-time visibility any more than the bright flashing LEDs that most cyclists already use? It’s basically just a fancy light.

Maybe it’s heretical to say this on a gadget blog, but as a regular cyclist (and car driver) these sorts of products don’t impress me. I’ve been riding for 25 years and seen dozens of ‘cyclist safety’ devices come and go, with no appreciable reduction in crashes with motor vehicles.

I tend to see them as another way to dodge the real issues of cyclist safety, and shift responsibility away from drivers (who cause most crashes) and governments (which design roads that are hostile to cycling).

Yes, cyclist safety is a real and difficult problem. There were 45 cyclists killed on Australian roads in 2014, and 9 up to May in 2015 (Source: Dept of Infrastructure and Regional Development).

Hundreds of cyclists are hospitalised, and thousands are involved in minor incidents every year, if not every month or week.

Overwhelmingly, these incidents involved motor vehicles, and research from the University of Adelaide showed that in serious incidents involving cyclists, the driver was at fault nearly 80% of the time.

Drivers pulling out of T-intersections; turning left immediately after passing a rider travelling in the same direction; turning right in front of an oncoming rider; or overtaking far too close. All of these incidents happen while the rider is travelling in a straight line.

Cyclists even have a sardonic acronym that captures the standard response from drivers who’ve just cleaned them up, the SMIDSY (“Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”).

What I’m getting at here is that for all the flashing lights, Kickstarter campaigns and industrial design projects, the bulk of the problem of cyclist safety (and pedestrian safety) needs to be solved by drivers.

Better cycling infrastructure would help, but the reality is that most of the time, people who ride bikes have to use the same roads as people who drive cars.

Unfortunately, experience and statistics suggest that devices sold as ‘protection’ for cyclists are basically useless against two tonnes of high-speed metal piloted by malicious, incompetent or distracted drivers. Spend half an hour driving around any Australian city and you’ll see plenty of each.

The Cyclee is another ‘thing’, like hi-vis clothing, helmets, mirrors, flashing lights, video cameras, ridiculous ‘smart hats’, bells and whistles that shift responsibility from the road user who caused the accident through inattention, to the victims who can never do enough to protect themselves.

Cyclee's mobile app

“Sorry mate I didn’t see you, you should have one of those laser projector things!”

Sure, the Cyclee has a cute name, it might be ‘smart’ and comes with an app. It might even be vaguely useful in situations where a rider is being overtaken from directly behind, much like the Fly6 camera, which I reviewed for Techly last year.

But the Fly6, for all its good intent, is a classic example of a ‘protection’ device that offers no protection. There are plenty of videos recorded by Fly6 owners showing cars hitting them. A camera isn’t protection from a crash, it just offers a chance to prove who was really at fault after the fact.

Drivers coming from behind have absolutely no excuse for not seeing cyclists anyway. If you can’t see and avoid hitting someone directly in front of you, you have no business driving a car. I don’t really see how a ‘smarter’ light would be better than the incredibly bright flashing LED lights already available pretty cheaply.

I’m certainly not saying not to wear hi-vis or use a camera on your bike. I’m all for taking reasonable steps to make myself visible on the bike: bright lights at night, bright clothing, assertive road position.

But where does it end for an activity that should be simple, accessible, normal and cheap?

I love technology and invention, but when it comes to bike safety I’m sceptical of any battery-powered gadget that is trying to overcome a huge deficit in driver attitudes and road infrastructure design.

The Cyclee might be a bit of fun for riders who want to send a personalised message to drivers but it’s a bucket in the ocean of accident prevention. If stopping accidents was as easy as a new gadget, we wouldn’t still be talking about it.

Now, how long do we have to wait for driverless cars?

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Comment (3)

    Rory Hart

    Monday 29 June 2015

    Agreed. Though to be fair to bicycle safety tech there has been a pretty big advancement in this area recently, front and read facing cameras. IF these get more common and contribute to the convictions of enough bad drivers it could force drivers and governments to pay attention. It will especially help with those who like to give us cyclists a bit scare now and again by passing too close because of some wrong headed notion we don’t belong on “their” road. Knowing that their actions could be caught on video and handed into police is will change behaviours, the carrot of saving lives hasn’t worked, time to use the stick.

    Reply

      Steve - O

      Monday 29 June 2015

      Force drivers to pay attention? the only accidents I have seen involving cyclists and cars have been at the fault of the cyclists.

      Governments to pay attention? Sure this tech should project registration on the back of cyclists so they can be identified and booked when breaking road rules. This should help paying for the millions on millions of dollars used to customise roads for lanes and paths they dont even use.

      Reply

    From Azerbaijan

    Monday 29 June 2015

    Dear Tim Renowden,

    Plz indicate the author of this idea in article. Thank you in advance.

    Good Luck !

    Reply