Cycling communities have worked hard around the world to get wider cycle lanes, better visibility and more support but it seems a very unlikely source where most promising cyclist protective technology is coming from - the automobile industry.
The latest big announcement is coming from Jaguar Land Rover's 'Bike Sense' research project. They're promising to 'tap drivers on the shoulder to prevent cycling accidents'. The company has spent £10 billion for new inventions in the past 5 years and is increasingly allocating the funds for the road safety.
Currently the 'Bike Sense' program is developing a range of new technologies that would use colours, sounds and touch inside the car to alert drivers to potential hazards and prevent accidents involving bicycles and motorbikes.
The car will be fitted with sensors to detect when a bicycle or motorbike is approaching. Bike Sense will then make the driver aware of the potential hazard before the driver sees it.
To help the driver understand where the bike is in relation to their car, the audio system will make it sound as if a bicycle bell or motorbike horn is coming through the speaker nearest the bike, so the driver immediately understands the direction the cyclist is coming from.
If a bicycle or motorbike is approaching the car from behind,Bike Sense will detect when it is overtaking or coming past the vehicle on the inside, and the top of the car seat will extend to 'tap' the driver on the left or right shoulder. The idea is that the driver will then instinctively look over that shoulder to identify the potential hazard.
Bike Sense will also include a matrix of LED lights on the window sills, dashboard and windscreen pillars. The lights will glow amber and later red as the bike is approaching and will change the location as to indicate the direction where cyclist is approaching from.
It is also planned to include vibrating door handles to help reduce 'dooring' the cyclists.
Sound will be alerted from the direction cyclist is approaching
Dr Wolfgang Epple, Director of Research and Technology, Jaguar Land Rover, said: "Human beings have developed an instinctive awareness of danger over thousands of years. Certain colours like red and yellow will trigger an immediate response, while everyone recognises the sound of a bicycle bell.
Bike Sense is designed to identify hazards that the driver cannot see. If a pedestrian or cyclist is crossing the road, and they are obscured by a stationary vehicle for example, the car's sensors will detect this and draw the driver's attention to the hazard using directional light and sound.
"By engaging the instincts, Bike Sense has the potential to bridge the gap between the safety and hazard detection systems in the car and the driver and their passengers," added Dr Epple. "This could reduce the risk of accidents with all road users by increasing the speed of response and ensuring the correct action is taken to prevent an accident happening."
Jaguar Land Rover seems to have taken a very intuitive yet slightly softer approach than Volvo. Back in March 2013 Volvo reviled their own Cyclist Detection System and they went one step further to actually interrupt the driver if in danger and to apply emergency brake if the car came in the danger of collision with the cyclist or pedestrian.
Volvo is planning to install the system in both, their truck fleet and family vehicles. We could all predict no driver will be glad to be interrupted unconsciously but Volvo promises to apply the emergency brake only in extreme collision situations when driver has not reacted accordingly.
London, the city with one of the fastest growing cycling communities in Europe is also giving it's thought to reducing collisions on the narrow winding streets. Transport for London was trying out new hi tech sensors made by third parties on their buses last year in effort to reduce the casualties on the streets to 40% by year 2020.
TfL was trialling two systems 'CycleEye' from Fusion Processing Limited and 'Cycle Safety Shield' from Safety Shield Systems Limited. CycleEye is advanced cyclist detection technology which uses both radar and optical technology to detect cyclists in close proximity to vehicles and the system audibly alerts the bus driver to their presence.
Cycle Safety Shield is able to detect pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists in close proximity to vehicles, giving a visual warning and then an audible alert to the driver.
Bus trips account for over a quarter of all road journeys in London but buses and coaches are involved in only eight per cent of road collisions resulting in an injury.
Recently published figures for 2013 show the number of cyclists and pedestrians killed or seriously injured in a collision involving a bus or coach in the capital fell by 38 per cent and 22 per cent respectively compared to 2012, with pedestrian KSIs almost halving and cyclist KSIs falling by 40 per cent in the last six years.
'Cycle Safety Shield' used by TFL is also a popular choice for the large truck fleets operating in urban areas. The system 'detects multiple cyclists and pedestrians and advises the driver of their position, this gives the driver a warning so even if there is a cyclist in their view there may also be another cyclist in their blind spot.'
Cycle Safety Shield from Safety Shield Systems on Vimeo.
Safety Shield Systems' Jon Guest said in the company's US trial there was a 60 per cent improvement in driver behaviour and around a 20 per cent increase in fuel efficiency following installation of the technology. He said: "With the 360-degree camera you can see fully all the way around the vehicle. If someone walks out in front the collision avoidance system warns the driver, giving him time to stop."
At the cost starting at only US $1300 it should really be installed in every lorry and it could potentially save a lot of expense to the fleet companies, reduce traffic accidents and most importantly save lives.
With such developments in automobile industry it does shed a bit of hope that one day we could be able to share a road safely with cars, lorries, trucks and bikes without a fear of being knocked off or pushed about. I am keen to see such innovations being used in production cars and being included in international road safety standards.