Converting calories into gasoline guzzled, the bicycle is such a beautiful engine of efficiency and grace that, if it were a car, it would get over 900 miles to the gallon. No wonder H.G. Wells once said, "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race." It’s the perfect machine.
So how do you improve a bicycle? You give it a brain. You make it smart. You make it safer. You give it eyes and a voice. That’s what the Helios Bars do. For just $199, you can give your bike a brain transplant.
Designed by Kenny Gibbs, Antonio Belmonto, and Seena Zandipour, the Helios Bars can be dropped on any bicycle to turn it into a smart bike, with built-in LED headlights, automobile-style turn signals built into the handles, Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, and GPS tracking. But it’s how Helios Bars use this technology that counts.
For example, by simply pairing your Helios bars with your iPhone and launching the Helios Connect app, you can change the color of your rear-facing bike lights, sort of like the Philip Hues line of iPhone-controlled LED lights. Even cooler, if you walk away from your bike and the connection between your iPhone and your Helios bars is lost, the lights will automatically turn off. Amble back on up to it and they switch on again.
It’s the GPS tracking that really impresses, though. Inside every set of Helios handlebars is a small GPS unit. This tiny geo-locating radio can tell how fast you’re going, adjusting the color of your Helios’ back LEDs as a visual speedometer according to just how much asphalt you’re tearing up. And if you slap a pay-as-you-go SIM into the Helios bars, your bike can even receive text messages and phone home its location if it gets stolen or needs to be recovered after you drunkenly abandon it outside of some ramshackle tequila dive on the outskirts of town and can’t remember where you left it (true story!).
At first, Gibbs, Belmonto, and Zandipour wanted to design something far simpler than what the Helios Bars eventually turned into. "The original idea was just to integrate lights in the handlebars," Zandipour tells Co.Design. The team pitched the idea to a startup incubator, which flew them out to Shenzhen, China, for four months to make the handlebars a reality. "We underestimated ourselves. Within the first week, we had the prototype completed," laughs Zandipour. "So we just filled a whiteboard with every feature we could possibly cram into a set of handlebars and got to work."
In another couple of weeks, Helios had added GPS tracking to the prototype. A month later, Bluetooth made it in. Finally, the team added rear LEDs to work as blinking turn signals, and developed a smartphone app called Helios Connect to change their color. Some features didn’t make the cut, like an integrated horn and an alarm feature that would send you a text if someone started messing with your bike (although Zandipour says this latter feature could still roll out in a future update).
The design of the Helios Bars does have at least one weird quirk: although they come with a battery that lasts seven hours, you have to plug the bars into a USB port to charge them. If you think your iPad looks a little ungainly sipping juice from your laptop, imagine plugging a bike into your MacBook to charge. But according to Zandipour, not only was that a requested feature from Kickstarter funders, but it could lead to Helios’ next big project: a completely computerized smart bike.
"Putting everything in the handlebars limited us a bit in what we could accomplish with Helios," explains Zandipour. "We want to work to harness the space of a full bike, and with that, we could use the dynamo and have a regenerative pedaling system." According to Zandipour, they are already in talks with some big bike manufacturers to make a full-on Helios Bike a reality.
"What Tesla is to cars, or Nest Labs is for smart appliances, that’s what we want to be for bicycles," says Zandipour. "That’s what Helios is here to do."
The company is now taking preorders for Helios Bars, which will start shipping in December. You can pre-order them here.