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Prototype of 'smart bike' borrows auto safety features

By most accounts, the evolution of the automobile seems to be leading to self-driving cars. The technology currently exists but will probably require considerable testing and tweaking before it could be used on a large scale. For now, new auto safety features assist the driver by sensing and responding to exterior dangers that the driver either can’t see or cannot respond to quickly enough. Vehicles are also starting to “talk” to other vehicles for purposes of collision avoidance.

In comparison to these technological wonders, the bicycle seems decidedly low-tech. But there are those who want to change that. A group of college engineering students recently unveiled a prototype of the “Interactive Bicyclist Accident Prevention System,” referred to as a “smart bike” for short.

It looks like (and is powered the same way as) a standard bicycle. But mounted to the front and rear are two consoles that give the bicycle some safety features similar to those available in the most advanced cars currently on the market.

Laws being enacted in a number of cities and states say that cars are supposed to give bicyclists a three-foot buffer of space. But if you are riding in an area without a painted bike lane, the smart bike provides its own markers. Sensors on the bike detect if cars have come closer than three feet away from the bike. If and when they do, the consoles project green laser lines onto the ground that create an emergency bike lane.

The smart bike also has other collision-avoidance and driver-alert features. When cars and trucks come too close to the bicycle, the consoles “emit a loud message, telling the driver to move further away” according to a recent news article. The smart bike can even vibrate its handlebars to warn a bicyclist that he is approaching an intersection too quickly and needs to slow down or to stop.

This technology is still in the prototype stage, and we may not see smart bikes on the road any time soon. But once perfected, smart bikes could significantly improve safety for Chicago’s many avid bicyclists and bike commuters.

Source: Boston Globe, "‘Smart bike’ focuses on safety," Martine Powers, Feb. 16, 2014

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