Posting in Cities
Millennials love their smartphones and bikes. Cars? Not so much. This could spawn a new generation of smart bikes for hipsters and obsessive cyclists, starting with Helios handlebars.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) recently put hard data behind a trend that has become evident to anyone living in a major city: young people aren't into cars anymore.
PIRG found that per capita, Americans drive the same number of miles each year as they did back in 1996. The biggest declines in driving since 2009 come from Millennials (people born between 1983 and 2000), who congregate in cities tend to walk, take transit and bike -- all while using their smartphones.
Today, drivers synchronize their phones with their cars to guide them to their destinations, navigate heavy traffic, and even track down restaurants. If bikes continue to ascend in popularity, will phones and bikes have a similar marriage?
HAXLR8R, a San Francisco-based hardware accelerator program, thinks they will. That's why it gave Helios Bikes, a collective of three young designers/tinkerers from the Bay Area, $25,000 and sent them to Shenzhen, China, where they (and 9 other HAXLR8R inductee teams) spent four months refining their smart bicycle prototypes and testing business models.
The startup's debut product is Helios Bars. The technology is a wired-up version of standard handlebars that sports an integrated LED headlight, and directional and speed indicators controlled via Bluetooth 4.0 with the rider's smartphone (Apple iOS only right now, Android coming). If the rider selects a route using Google Maps on his or her phone, he or she can send the directional data to the handlebars via the Helios app. This triggers the right or left indicator lights (visible to traffic around the bike) to blink whenever the rider should turn. The lights also change hue as the bike accelerates or decelerates, so traffic can react.
The Helios Bars also contain an embedded GPS receiver the rider can use -- along with the Helios app and the addition of a pay-as-you-go SIM card inside the bars -- to track down a bike if it is stolen.
Helios Bikes is led by Kenneth Gibbs, the 22-year-old son of an inventor who helped develop on-bike computers (devices mounted on handlebars and used to track distance and speed) at Hewlett-Packard. Gibbs grew up working on motorcycles and cars. "I used to work on cars and then flip them on eBay. That's how I made money in high school," he says.
The Helios Bars are targeted at mobile-savvy urban cyclists, who appear to be receiving the product well, if the Kickstarter campaign Gibbs and his co-founders launched May 21 is any indication. Within three days, the campaign raised more than half of its $70,000 goal, with most backers pledging enough to earn the handlebars.
Gibbs and his co-founders want to expand the system's capabilities to attract performance-focused riders. Today's top bike computers contain GPS receivers, mapping software and performance features such as heart rate monitoring and cadence tracking. It seems only a matter of time before top bike manufacturers begin integrating these technologies into their own products, but Gibbs hopes to beat them to it.
"We'll be integrating sensors to track things like heart rate and wattage," he says, and eventually Helios Bars will include a kinetic energy harvester to keep the integrated batteries charged during long rides.
But first, Gibbs adds, the focus is on the Kickstarter campaign and producing the first commercial version of the prototype. "We learned a lot in Shenzhen," he says, "like how to iterate quickly and how to get manufacturers excited about our product."
HAXLR8R helps entrepreneurs with product development and also provides a crash course in learning to manage supply chains. That's an awful lot of real-world experience for a 22-year-old college drop-out.
I asked Gibbs: "What if the Kickstarter campaign explodes, and you raise $2 million? Can you scale production to handle that kind of demand?"
He answers cheerfully: "Oh yeah. Our current manufacturer produces bikes for big European and American companies. They can handle it."
(Photos: Helios Bikes)
Jun 5, 2013
What about expanding the technology to city dwellers on electric bikes or trikes? The less athletic and elderly might also benefit. As a motorcycle enthusiast I can see this application working with motorcycles. A blue tooth application directing me through an ear bud would be cool and would not be distracting at all. And automatically operating my signal lights even better as long as the rider can manually override with the bikes normal switches.
I biked, for 14 years, to work about seven miles away. Part of my route was safe, through Arlington Cemetary. But I gave it up when a motorist ran a red light, crossing six lanes, and hit my front wheel. My superficial injuries looked worse than I felt they were, and the muscular shock about my ribs from the sudden torque that twisted the front wheel relative to the handlebars lasted only a few days. A bicycle is an improvement over the horse in the use of biofuel for transport. It's about as fast for most commuting distances, it's easier to park, and it consumes less grain. But I concluded that it cannot be recommended as a way to save fuel, until entire continuous paths exist for commuting to work by bicycle. I don't care how much smarter a bicycle you have.
Most cycling is done with cars behind and to one side. How close would a car have to be for handlebar indicators to be hidden by the driver's body? TOO BLOODY CLOSE. I've done plenty of turing on a bicycle and the choice between mounting a map on the handlebars and a smart phone is really easy ... while both can risk being a distraction, the latter just works better. It's all about getting the scale right on the map so you can read it quickly ... almost impossible on a paper map. And a phone telling your bars to flash? Great idea.
For some reason the turn signal as a means of notifying drivers of bicycles intentions has never taken off, although I have seen them. They will have to become fairly widespread before they could be considered as a replacement for hand signals. I also expect that indicators would have to be on the back of the bicycle to be reliably visible from all angles, therefore handlebars are not a suitable mounting point.
the first thing they do is run to China so the bike can be built overseas by semi-slave labor. Why would any red blooded God fearing American Patriot ever build anything here in America? Our wonderful multinational corporations have shown us the way for past three decades - run to the Communist Chinese. But to what end? Our end?
It looks to me like you aren't biking along looking at your smartphone or have it mounted to your handlebars. Signal lights tell you when to turn, this seems to be as undistracting as is possible. You tell your Smartphone where you're going before you ride off just like you tell your car GPS where you're headed before you go. Sounds like a great idea to me.
...will fare any better than drivers doing the same? At least in a car you have a ton of metal and airbags to save you.
I'm not of the target generation, and live 36 miles from the office, but my older son bikes to work and might be interested. I would love to live close enough to the office to bike (or even walk), but my wife wants a larger lot, not a smaller one, and double the price for half the house is out of the question, anyway.
Maybe the speed indicator is a distraction. Maybe the speedometer in your car is a distraction. Same for the turn signals. Oh, and that distracting headlight! Those should be outlawed! The turn indicators serve two purposes, here: 1) To alert those around you and 2) to direct the rider, in cases where they don't know the route already. I don't really see how anything this does is a distraction. It isn't playing music, it isn't displaying any graphical data, not even a map of your route.
http://news.yahoo.com/why-hands-free-phones-may-unsafe-drivers-124717432.html [i]"People who see and use these new technologies may think, 'Now I don't have to look at my phone. And the technology is built right into the car, so it must be safe,'" Rosenberger said. "But, just like state laws that prohibit handheld phone use and mandate hands-free use, they don't actually eliminate the distraction. In fact, one could argue that they encourage continued distractions."[/i]
I read the article. Bicycling in automotive traffic, particularly in an urban environment, requires constant awareness of ones surroundings and constant adaptation to changing conditions. Moving obstacles present themselves on a scale well below the limited resolution of GPS location, fixed obstacles change on a daily basis, and the navigation system guiding it is neither current enough nor reliable enough to employ in life-critical applications. (I don't care whose smart phone maps you use. It's unreliable enough asking it to get across the country; I'm not going to bet my life that it can get me around the block.)
By default, you have to use a smartphone to program the information to the handlebars. I seriously doubt they are leaving the smartphone behind. So the handlebars actually encourage smartphone use - which are a huge distraction while doing almost any activity. So yes, I would consider that handlebars as contributors to something that is already a problem - distracted living.
Nothing like that happens with this device. It automatically flashes turn indicators... That's it! I'm thinking you didn't read the article.