Technology “Hacks” Solve Real-World Cycling Problems

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The bicycle was created in the 1800s, but technology is keeping it relevant with “hacks” – or solutions – designed to get more people to use bike helmets, count ridership better, and reduce the obstacles keeping people from biking.

These and other innovations were on display at the latest Transportation Techies event: Bike Hack Night III.

Ola Göransson, an innovations expert at Washington’s Embassy of Sweden, demonstrated the Invisible Bike Helmet, an airbag for bicyclists. Not yet available for purchase in the United States, the helmet was developed by two industrial design students in Sweden to address the complaint by some cyclists that existing helmets are unattractive and mess up their hair.

Göransson explained how the invisible bike helmet, a scarf-like device, uses algorithms to differentiate between normal motion and movements indicative of a collision. “The catch is I cannot show you how it works,” Göransson said, because, as with all other airbag-based devices, it can only be operated a single time.

Even though a snafu caused the invisible bike helmet to discharge accidentally during the event, this didn’t dampen the audience’s enthusiasm for the prototype. The promising device seems assured to save lives.

Love to Ride, a New Zealand company that uses behavior-change psychology to encourage cycling, was discussed by founder Thomas Stokell (pictured at top).

Stokell explained how his firm uses gamification to get more people biking. Through his company’s service, firms compete against one another, judged on overall participation. “It’s about activating the cycling champions in our community,” Stokell said. He explained behavior change as an incremental process: first you convince someone to get a bike, then ride it a little, then ride occasionally, ride regularly, and finally ride to work.

Two different presenters at Bike Hack Night III discussed products that count bicyclists more efficiently. John Elliot demonstrated a pneumatic bike counter he created with $100 worth of parts bought online, using Waybot to count bicycle traffic and stream the data to the web. After his presentation, one excited attendee commented, “That’s a commercially viable pneumatic counter.”

The other bike-counting project was presented by Tracy Hadden Loh. The Rails to Trails Conservancy research director demonstrated her organization’s free app, called Tally Go!, for manual bike and pedestrian counting. Hadden Loh explained that while automatic counting technologies are proliferating, manual counts are still heavily used in the industry to plan bike infrastructure and improvements. Tally Go!, not yet available for download, streamlines and simplifies the bike-counting process.

Transportation Techies, the brainchild of Mobility Lab’s Michael Schade, has taken off in its first year beyond all of his initial expectations. This most recent event, which took place March 11 at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington D.C., was the biggest one so far, with 160 attendees and 10 speakers. The Techies now have 800 members total.

The events capitalize on Washington’s burgeoning technology start-up scene, and the most recent bike-themed night coincided with the National Bike Summit.

And in case you thought these Mobility Lab-sponsored meetups were only for hackers or code monkeys, Schade clarified the concept. “We call it a hack night in order to welcome and encourage people who do creative things with technology, be it using data in unexpected ways, or just using data and APIs and gadgets to build a project that is personal and meaningful to themselves.”

Photo by M.V. Jantzen.

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