Ethan Frier & Jonathan Ota – Carnegie Mellon University
Project Aura is a bicycle lighting system designed to address the issue of nighttime urban bike commuting. The system challenges the current paradigm of bike lighting, and it was our intention to create a functional safety lighting system that riders want to use and want to be seen using it.
Ethan Frier & Jonathan Ota Funded by the Carnegie Mellon University Undergraduate Research Office Faculty advisor: Stephen Stadelmeier
We think the project confirms that the future of the bicycle is bright – great for our planet and our health. We believe it is easy to implement on all kinds of bikes and in theory all kinds of wheel assisted transportation. We think the speed color adjustment for safety is a fresh and meaningful innovation that could potentially create a new sign language in traffic. We do, however, believe that a premise for its success is that the design is further refined.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Riding at night can be a daunting and dangerous task, an issue many bike commuters deal with daily. We are both bikers and we know how intimidating it sometimes is to be cycling on the same roads as a car or truck weighing 100 times what we do - being pushed to the far edges of the road shoulder and always having to worry about the large consequences of a driver's small mistake. We wanted to develop a system which increased the visual presence of bikers at night.
Attachable front and rear lights are great at making riders seen, but they are not always the most effective way of increasing visibility to all motorists, especially from the side. Additionally, front and rear lights do little to identify a biker as a biker as opposed to an ambiguous blinking point of light. Many bikes have reflectors on them, both on the wheels and the frame. But reflectors are only effective when they are in the direct headlight of an automobile, an inelegant solution at best. By Illuminating the rims, we have created an immediate formal context for drivers to identify bikers as bikers and take the appropriate measures to drive safely in their vicinity. The goal of the project was to rethink the paradigm of bike lights, while increasing convenience and safely and integrating everything into a package which did not detract from the pure aesthetic of the bike coveted by riders.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
As a self-initiated project, we felt that the goals we had outlined in our initial proposal were loose enough to allow for changes or additions down the road. Coming from our biking background, we had a better picture of the problem we set out to confront. We are passionate about our bikes and we see them as extensions of ourselves. We observed that other cyclists are passionate about theirs as well, leading us to determine whatever product or system we created, it had to be as transparent and visually clean as possible.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
Project Aura deals directly with mistakes both bikers and drivers make in regard to safety. Our design better informs drivers about the biker’s presence and actions as compared to bike lighting systems commonly used (front and rear blinky). In almost all accident scenarios, a root cause of the accident is a lack of information on the part of one, or both of the parties involved. It is too easy to not see a biker at night. Project Aura brings riders to a driver’s attention without being obnoxious or intrusive, by emphasizing the form factor of the bike through light. Our design also deals directly with some of the deadly decisions bikers make in regard to safety, primarily decisions motivated by laziness and the lacking ‘cool factor’ of bike lights.
Blinky lights are not hip or beautiful. They rarely integrate well with the bike and it can be a hassle to turn on multiple individual lights. Our design is self powered and needs not be turned on or off (if you really want to there is a switch located on the handlebars, your hands never have to leave the bars to activate). One of the biggest issues this project addresses compared to conventional lighting setups is the streamlining of the system. Bikes are fashion items and riders don’t want to clutter their rides with ugly clip on lights. Project Aura is completely integrated into the rims of the bike, leaving the aesthetics of whatever ride you choose to sport, completely unblemished.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
We used the US Department of Transportation & National Highway Safety Administration 2009 Traffic Safety Report and the Compendium of NHTSA’s Pedestrian and Bicyclist Traffic Safety Research Projects 1969-2007 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (most recent reposts that were available at the time). In these documents, a considerable amount of research had been done to outline the most common factors that lead to an accident. As explained in the NHTSA report, there are six sequence of events that lead to a collision: search, detect, evaluation, decision, action, and vehicle response. A failure of either the cyclist or the driver to carry out any of the six events will result in a collision. We were also influenced by the statistic of accidents which occurred at intersections: 36%. In a urban commenting scenario it was clear that side illumination was an extremely important factor which almost all current lighting systems do not address. However, as far as developing the prototype and how we arrived at our final resolution, we primarily relied on our first hand knowledge and our project mentor, who has been using a bicycle as his primary mode of commute for literally decades.
It should be noted that Project Aura is a lighting system which allows a rider to be seen, but does not replace a forward facing headlight to illuminate the roadway. By law (in Pennsylvania, the laws vary state by state) a front headlamp and rear reflector are required, use of a rear blinky is up to the rider’s discretion.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
Project Aura is a safety device, designed to better the relationship between riders and drivers. It is about communication and hopefully through enhanced communication between rider and driver we can make the roads safer for all parities involved. But the project works on other levels as well. The immediate reaction everybody has is “wow cool, what is that?”. And that is an important thing - that on a purely surface level we have created something freakin’ cool. But neither of us see good design as just being flashy or fashionable, it has to enhance peoples’ experiences. If every biker had this system, our hope is that being on the street at night as a driver, pedestrian, K-9, or biker would be a slightly more pleasant experience than what we are accustomed to. Good design has the right combination of beauty, novelty, functionality and desirability, and we did our very best to mix just the right amount of each to arrive at a successful resolution which challenged current lighting systems and will possibly save lives in the process as well.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
One aspect we could have delved further into would be the actual usage of our product and how it would affect the riding patterns of the cyclist. We had managed to create a functional prototype, and test the visibility of the bicycle from different distances. But we did not fully test how the product affected the rider his/herself.