To prevent crashes, the City of Las Vegas has partnered with an analytics company to develop a smart bike that warns drivers when they approach.
The project is headed by a Boston-based company called Charles River Analytics and explores the possible safety gains from bikes that can communicate with wirelessly connected vehicles. Working out of Las Vegas’ downtown Innovation District, the company says its “Multimodal Alerting Interface with Networked Short-range Transmissions” (MAIN-ST) project was awarded a $750,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration for two years of research.
Michael Jenkins, a senior scientist at Charles River Analytics, said the motivation to develop the technology came from a lack of smart products for bikes and the potentially huge safety implications that a warning system might have for cyclists.
“For this technology to truly realize its potential, it must provide connectivity for all shared roadway transportation options,” Jenkins says in the company’s promotional materials. “Bicyclists represent a class of vulnerable roadway users that to date have been largely overlooked.”
Instead of depending on small flashing lights or reflective gear, the MAIN-ST system enables alerts for both motorists and cyclists. A bicycle’s location and speed are relayed to an oncoming driver while a computer attached to the bike’s seat tube processes algorithms and prioritizes alerts. Cyclists receive the alerts via Bluetooth to speakers in the handlebars and to a mobile app.
“Using a combination of commercially available hardware and custom software algorithms and processing methods, we can provide cyclists with a smartphone application that allows them to plan safer trips and make safer riding decisions while en route,” Jenkins says.
The company is testing the merits of a variety of possible notifications, including a notification for traffic light changes. Cyclists can time lights, slowing down if they know there isn’t enough time to cross an intersection or speed up if the light is about to turn green.
Imminent crash warning are also part of the system that Jenkins says can be a potential life saver in blind intersections. An example of such an incident is when a rider is pedaling to catch a light and can’t see a car passing through an intersection at the same time. With a MAIN-ST alert, the cyclist will not only know that a car is coming, but also know the direction it’s coming from.
Yet for MAIN-ST to work, it would require an investment by cities to develop its roadway infrastructure and for the automobile industry to manufacture vehicles capable of such wireless connectivity.
The research firm BI Intelligence estimates that more than 94 million connected vehicles will be produced worldwide in 2021, and 82 percent of them will be connected. This growth is expected to be followed by the adoption of autonomous vehicles. Transportation research and consulting firm BCG predicts there will be more than 12 million fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2035.