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The smart bicycle light meets the smart city

Jeremy Green | July 8, 2016
See.Sense's real innovation is that it includes the contextual awareness of smartphones, making it a connected bike light that can be bright where and when it needs to be, and save its battery when it doesn't.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

I was pleased to see that See.Sense won first prize in a BT and Cabinet Office smart cities competition earlier this month.

I'd met the company a few times, and everything about it creates an aura of good feeling - it's about using technology to improve the experience of cycling, it's a plucky little British company that has chosen to manufacture a high-value, high-tech product at home rather than offshoring to China, it's helped to save a factory and jobs in a small community...I could go on.

It isn't that the prize is so significant that it will change the company's fortunes, but it's nice to have one's own positive impression confirmed, and it will help See.Sense to gain a bit more recognition.

The original idea for See.Sense came from founder Philip McAleese's experience of cycling while working in Singapore. He had a few near misses with cars, and noticed that while the latter all had bright daylight-visible running lights, bicycles had to make do with much dimmer devices.

Making them brighter would require a bigger, cycle-unfriendly battery; McAleese's brainwave was to add the kind of contextual awareness that was becoming available in the first generation of smartphones. In this way a connected bike light could be bright where and when it needed to be, and save its battery when it didn't.

A little market research, a relocation back to Northern Ireland, and a Kickstarter-funded prototype device led to a first wave of sales, and to the discovery that the sensors which could be embedded into the bike light were much more accurate than originally anticipated.

It began to dawn on See.Sense that it was creating a user-funded network of mobile urban sensors, and that it was now in the big data business. The smartphone ecosystem means that the app, as well as the light's firmware, can be upgraded, and the lights themselves are upgraded and replaced often enough that the deployed 'fleet' of sensors is likely to be weighted towards the latest model.

The product, now called the ICON, is a lightweight USB-rechargeable bicycle LED lamp, with enviable illumination features, a set of sensors that includes accelerometer, temperature and ambient light detection, and Bluetooth connectivity to a smartphone app.

The app provides control features and the geolocated contextual information to the light, which means that it shines more brightly at danger spots such as roundabouts, road-junctions, approaching car headlights at night, or when travelling into shade and tunnels.

Perhaps more important, the bike light also collects and transmits the data gathered from its sensors. Using the sensors on the light, rather than the smartphone's own sensors, allows the measurements to be more accurate and more frequent; a smartphone can 'only' take 15 accelerometer readings per second, whereas the ICON light can take as many as 800.


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