Blaze- a handlebar mounted virtual bike lane

Commuter, Concept, Student Design 21 46

Blaze- a handlebar mounted laser bike laneI have been a bit preoccupied with a local bike lane issue for the past few days, so this virtual bicycle lane article from Bike Biz caught my attention this morning. The Blaze concept, by British design student Emily Brooke of the University of Brighton, is a handlebar-mounted laser that projects a personal bike lane (more like a sharrow in the image) on the road ahead of a cyclist. In the article, Emily mentions her reasoning for projecting the laser image so far ahead; “Eighty percent of cycle accidents occur when bicycles travel straight ahead and a vehicle maneuvers into them. The most common contributory factor is ‘failed to look properly’ on the part of the motorist.” With her Blaze concept, motorist would presumably see the image before they see the actual cyclist, preventing that type of accident.

So, what do you think of this idea, which as noted in the Bike Biz article is similar to Alex Tee and Evan Gant’s LightLane concept from 2009 (an entry in the Bicycle Design Commuter Bike design competition). Would a bright projected image on the pavement just cause confusion and add to the many other driver distractions out there on the roadways, or do you think something like this really would make drivers more conscious of a cyclist approaching from behind? As always, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

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21 Comments

  1. Drew June 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm -  Reply

    Dear all design students,
    Please make a working prototype that demonstrates proof of your concept.
    This problem is a good one, but “I think you’ll find it’s a little bit more complicated than that”.
    kthxbye
    Dr Ew

  2. Rol June 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm -  Reply

    Seems like a clever idea, though I’m a little concerned about the (ocular) safety of projecting lasers about, and it may encounter legal resistance on that basis.

    • art June 14, 2011 at 8:17 am -  Reply

      That was my first thought as well. I’m all for sharing the road, but if a cyclist pointed a laser at my side mirror I’d be tempted to hit them on purpose.

  3. Brian Ogilvie June 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm -  Reply

    It’s a neat concept. I don’t know how it would work in practice, but some trials in a controlled setting would be worthwhile.

    I think handlebars would be a bad place to put the projector, since the image would jitter back and forth as the cyclist adjusted course (e.g. to avoid a pothole or grating). Mounting it on the top tube would produce a stabler image.

  4. Steve A June 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm -  Reply

    Normally, a motorist passes on the left, placing the image on the ground squarely in a blind spot, masked by the passenger. The only value I see is it might encourage a timid gutter bunny to ride more assertively in what can only be described as a placebo effect.

  5. ClintonRH June 8, 2011 at 7:37 am -  Reply

    Not practical at all. For it to be visible it would have to be very powerful and that would cause LOTS of problems. What happens when your virtual bike lane hits a street reflector… it bounces right back at you and blinds you momentarily. Rain would give it fits. Plus for it to serve any purpose at all it would have to be projected so far down the street that it would become disconnected from the actual rider.

    Just silly really. Sometimes I really dislike design students. They seem to exist in this bizarro world where they think they can just dream stuff up and throw it out there with no thought towards execution.

  6. Andy June 8, 2011 at 8:44 am -  Reply

    1) It’s only going to visible at night, so you’re much better off with flashing lights on you and your bike
    2) Most drivers have no idea what a sharrow is, or even if they have seen one, they don’t know exactly what it means. Heck, most cyclists don’t even know what a sharrow image means!
    3) As other comments said, this would shine in the driver’s blind spot. Oops.
    4) Good luck selling handlebar mounted lasers at any price people would care to spend. When amazing LED headlights go for $50, and actually provides effective light to be seen by, no one will care about an expensive laser gadget.

  7. Em Brooke June 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm -  Reply

    Dear Drew,
    I have a working prototype, which (Andy) is visible in daylight. I am well aware the problem is “a little more complicated than that”.
    It is designed to tackle the specific scenarios that cause the most cycling fatalities; a vehicle turning left (in the UK) across the path of an unseen cyclist. In this scenario BLAZE projects out of the vehicle’s blind spot down onto the road ahead and in the view of the driver.
    The second most common scenario is again a cyclist traveling straight ahead, but with a car pulling out of a side turning into their path. This is commonly due to drivers’ learned perception when scanning for traffic, they look for vehicles traveling in the centre of the road, cyclists are overlooked as they travel closer to the curb. In this scenario, BLAZE again projects ahead of the rider into the centre of the road, and is seen in time.
    I gave a great deal of research and thought into the problem and what would actually help cyclists’ visibility, awareness and footprint on the roads. Anything that helps to make us seen I believe is a good thing.

    • Andy June 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm -  Reply

      The problem Emily seems to be missing is that if a driver isn’t paying attention enough to see a person on a bike thats roughly 2x5ft while riding, the chance that they will see some lights ahead on the road will be even less. A person on a bike (even moving slowly) will cover over 50ft in 3 seconds, so to give a driver enough warning to process and react to seeing this would requiring shining it very far ahead. It’s great that people have these ideas, but unfortunately they just aren’t effective, nor will they ever be worth the cost to produce and market.

      • Brian Ogilvie June 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm -  Reply

        Andy: what about this scenario? Motorist passes cyclist, then slows to turn left (in the UK), not realizing how close he or she is to the cyclist, and does a left hook. The problem in this scenario is not that the motorist did not see the cyclist, but that the motorist saw the cyclist as effectively a stationary object, and thus did not expect the cyclist to be in his or her path when turning. In my experience, many motorists see cyclists but have little or no idea of how fast they are going. In that case, the virtual sharrow might actually be useful.

        • Andy June 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm -  Reply

          Brian, I understand that situation because I ride about 5000 miles a year. The great thing about riding experience is that it doesn’t take long to learn how to avoid those situations. I don’t ride up alongside cars near intersections anymore, because I quickly learned how much risk I was putting myself in. If you read up about vehicular cycling (sometimes called “bicycle driving”) it becomes very clear why this is a better method than assuming that a bike lane offers protection. To buy a light like this is to say that you don’t care about effective cycling, and hope that a gadget will solve the problem. I can’t commend that route.

          I’m fairly sure that drivers not understanding a cyclists speed is what causes nearly all car/bike collisions, but that doesn’t mean that I would put any sliver of faith to a driver understanding that a light on the ground (moving at the same speed as the person on the bike) has any positive effect. If the driver assumes I’m only moving 3mph on a bike, why would they see a light on the road and make any different assumption?

          Emily, that is good topic to investigate. Unfortunately, I have big doubts that a bus driver is ever looking to the ground, even ahead of them for warning of a cyclist. They are too busy scanning for other buses, trucks, cars, cyclists, and pedestrians, and in the off chance that a few cyclists in a town were to be using this device, I doubt that the bus driver would put addition attention to further looking for a green laser light shaking on the ground.

        • art June 14, 2011 at 8:15 am -  Reply

          Except that the assumption that the driver will see the sharrow is much more dangerous than its absence. It’s much safer to assume that any car next to you is going to turn suddenly than to assume that any amount of visibility is going to cause them not to.

  8. Em Brooke June 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm -  Reply

    The idea, in fact, is that it will be seen in situations where the bike is not. For example, if a bus driver has a cyclist down in their blind-spot they cannot see, the cyclist improves their slim chance of perception from their position beside the large vehicle with a projection out onto the road in front of it.

  9. Em Brooke June 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm -  Reply

    (That was to Andy. Thank you Brian.)

  10. anon June 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm -  Reply

    Lots of comments are from people who find flaws in ideas without having seen them in person. What a great way to shoot down a good ideas before it has been fleshed out. :P This is a great idea, I can already think of so many possibilities that can be built on top of the concept.

  11. Jon Webb June 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm -  Reply

    I thought about this on the way home. I think it wouldn’t work for drivers, because they typically don’t look at the road itself while driving (not to mention that it almost certainly wouldn’t be bright enough in the daylight). I’m guessing it might work a bit better for pedestrians — at least you’d get their attention, but they might not know where the light is coming from. However, have you heard of bike bells? They mount on the handlebar like your light and work without electricity. You just push a lever with your thumb. They would get pedestrian’s attention without them having to be looking in the right direction, and pedestrians would also know what direction the sound is coming from, because our ears can determine the direction of sound pretty well. I’d think they’d work at least as well as the light to get driver’s attention, too. Definitely a technology worth looking int.

  12. OTAKUERIC June 13, 2011 at 6:48 pm -  Reply

    drivers who fail to look properly? um.. WHAT? blind spot is called the blind spot because it is in the one spot of your vision when driving where one cannot see. this pretentious biased nonsense is too much even for the inter webs.

  13. Todd Edelman June 13, 2011 at 10:08 pm -  Reply

    There is now a more or less standard visual language regarding lights used on vehicles which operate legally on the roads of the world (sometimes in theory in developing countries): Red means stop, amber means slow, green means go + steady red is baseline, more intense means braking, a blinking light, usually amber on the right side of two rear red lights means turn right, etc. (in the EU vehicles need a supplementary blinking amber light on the side of the car). This also applies to motorcycles even with their small light cluster and a bit of it applies to bicycles, with a red steady light, amber reflectors on pedals and amber or white reflectors on spokes, or reflective sidewalls describes a typical situation. And also what is typical is that all of these vehicles including bikes have a steady front white light.

    It is difficult to maintain this language, or keep fluency high, in particular with bikes (even in Berlin, where I live).

    So then some people with the best intentions want to invent a new word, so to speak. So I say that they need to go to the safety analogue of the famous panel of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and prove that 100 or just 10 times a new device has saved lives, and not at the expense of anyone else.

    I have some thoughts on this here: http://greenideafactory.blogspot.com/2010/09/dont-believe-hyper-illumination.html

  14. darren August 8, 2011 at 5:34 am -  Reply

    I think this Is a fantastic idea and one that would add to any saftey senario on the road and is very similar in effect to the 10w halogen light i currently run on my helmet when riding between dusk and dawn which places a patch of light approx 3 metres in front of my front wheel indicating my projected path to others(unless i am making obsevations or staring at the multitude of numb/unobservant drivers who carry out manouvers that seem specificaly designed to cause problems to others)
    i also use this system in daytime whilst teaching cycling to children and adults to good effect in and around london
    It has also come up whilst delivering lectures at brunel university on mechanical engineering regarding how to make unobservant people notice things,with regards to the changes recently in signposting everything and spoonfeeding motorists instructions on english roads when it used to be mandatory to learn roadcraft prior to passing a test in previous years .
    i base all my judgements on personal experience with well in excess of 5k miles in the saddle per year as well as my motorcycle,car and hgv/pcv experience.
    and one of the main factors is people getting into their own little world upon entering their vehicle along with the huge amount of people that either havent passed their test or got someone else to do it for them.
    along with a new breed of angry motorists who are reacting to all the obstacles lights and speed restrictions all over the place that view cyclist as another reason why they are getting to their destination later than they wished and are even more aggressive as a consequence.
    I frequently have motorists hurtle down the outside of a group of 10 year old children and giving themselves no option other than carving into the group and making the situation incredibly dangerous when traffic from the opposite direction appears,the resulting conversations usually are heated and expletive filled from the drivers that it was the cyclists fault that they got in the way and didn’t we realise people need to get places and to get bikes off the road to all the nice safe cycle paths ?
    that is if they even look at us on the other side of the glass !

    in the last five incidents i have had on the road that required police assistance 2 didn’t have valid uk licences and one was disqualified for drink driving and without due care and attention.

    so any additional visual aid to make people more aware is a benefit no matter how small.
    and i look forward to hearing more on this invention in the future.

    not forgetting of course that cars were forced to have someone run in front with a warning flag when they first started out on uk roads because they were viewed as a danger to others!!

    • Todd Edelman August 8, 2011 at 11:42 am -  Reply

      YES – last line first – it is great to remind people of the flag warning thing.

      Your analysis is spot on but I don’t agree with your conclusion. Bikes are simple and this light is not. It is hard enough to get people to use even the currently required lights, so adding this – IF it is legal – will be a difficult task. But – following what I wrote earlier – it just makes some cyclists visible and others less, in comparison, even legally-illuminated ones.

      The course forward is 30km speed limits enforced by street design in built-up areas and better training for drivers and cyclists, local govts. buying good lights cheap and selling them at cost and more serious penalties and enforcement for the former.

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