Co.Design

Flashing Wheels Help Cyclists Claim The Road And See Ahead

Revolights shine as they spin inside bike wheels, helping drivers to spot bikers on the streets.

Sure, bikers can strap on reflective clothing and cities can add bike lanes to their streets, but the truth of the matter is that cycling at night is only going to get safer when drivers can actually see a bike as easily as a car. We've covered plenty of bike-lighting solutions, but a new concept called Revolights seems to do the trick in a smart new way -- by turning the wheels of a bike into the equivalent of a traveling laser light show that not only helps bikers see the road before them, it makes a bike look and feel more like a car.

Revolights uses rim-mounted lights which can be installed by clipping a tube of LED lights onto the inside of any bike wheel and connecting them to a small, USB-rechargeable battery mounted on the hub. Turning on the lights creates a simple sequential pattern, with the lights flashing on in order. Yet as the bike moves forward, the lights begin to concentrate towards the front and back of the bike wheels in white (front) and red (rear). This creates a "headlight" which is bright enough to be used by the rider to navigate the street ahead, and a "taillight" that also acts as a bright indicator to any oncoming cars.

By mimicking a car's lights, it might help drivers see bikers as equals.

According to Adam Pettler, one of the founders, the system uses a tiny magnet installed on the bike's fork that interacts with the electronic system in the rim. This can measure how fast the wheels are turning, and tells the LEDs where to turn on the lights. "Like many bicycle products on the market, Revolights uses a timing mechanism that recognizes when it passes through the bike forks," he tells Co.Design. "It then calculates the speed at which the wheel is turning and illuminates the arc based on the algorithm. In the case of the front light, an arc that represents the 'forward' direction." Pettler also says the system could work in conjunction with an accelerometer as well -- for example, if it was connected to your bike-mounted smartphone.

Revolights solves bike lighting problems in a few different ways which sets it apart from other solutions. First, the mesmerizing array of lights is sure to get attention on dark streets, but by tracing the shapes of the wheels, it also helps drivers to understand the full length and size of the vehicle, plus the fact that it's indeed a bike (not, say, a guy on a skateboard wearing a headlamp, as I have encountered before). Plus, the fact that the light doubles as a headlight for the biker improves upon most bike lights which just flash or shine without much assistance to the rider. But there's one pretty genius move in Revolight's choice of light color: By mimicking the light arrangement on a car, it also might help drivers to see bikes as a car's equal.

A Kickstarter campaign is hoping to raise funds for the next phase of Revolights' production, taking the prototype they call v4 to new versions v5 and v6. Improvements that need to made include physical details like ease of mounting and strengthening the clips, but also streamlining the algorithm and stationary pattern for the lights. A $200 pledge gets you one of the new Revolights systems, ready to be installed.

[Donate to Revolights on Kickstarter here]

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8 Comments

  • andreas

    I don't know about how bikes lights are in other countries, but back here (the Netherlands) it's by law that the bikes front light has to be white/yellow and the rear red. Not that genius. What I do like is the better visibility to the side

  • humansindesign

    We are about to have an article up comparing these to Project Aura (probably up when you are reading this)

    There are some important differences that you've not highlighted here - not a criticism of this article or the system but rather an addition.

    Kickstarter has been an amazing initative... but we think this highlights the next step for even faster innovation.

    http://humansindesign.com

  • Justin Ziemba

    It's always a good idea to have lights on your wheels for safety... especially when you ride without a helmet at night.

  • IlyaBodner

    I have been into cycling for almost 3 years now.  I remember when I bought my first (and still my only) Trek thinking to myself - how am I going to see the wheels when riding at night.  Well, today I stumble upon this article that makes me think that entrepreneurship hasn't slowed down in any industry! This is great and very motivating.

    (I agree with the comments below, for now I'm going to look really goofy riding around with flashing wheels)

    Sincerely,

    Ilya Bodner

  • vxx

    Very cool, though I suggest calling them "cyclists."  Bikers ride Harleys.  ;-)

  • David Ramos

    It's a wonderful project, in the first sense of that word - a bike at night with that lighting system inspires wonder. It's beautiful. It's like something out of a dream. I admire the vision and technical abilities required to bring this idea into prototype form.

    Addressing the safety issues, though, don't require reinventing the bike light. Even the crudest bike lights work fine. 

    The problem is that there are people riding around at night without lights at all.  As someone who's helped with bike light giveaway programs, I've found that the people without lights are disproportionately working class and non-English speakers.

    The design challenges, if we're trying to save lives, involve bringing the price of lights down, and getting those lights onto the bikes of people who need them. Often there's an element of cross-cultural communication there.