There are more cyclists than ever in cities today, a fact that isn’t lost on city planners and administrators. Streetscapes are changing accordingly, as they are amended to accommodate bike lanes. The result is a healthier urban environment with a robust transport network.
But tensions inevitably arise when such different transportation beasts as cars and bikes travel side-by-side in such intense proximity. Drivers don’t always respect the line of demarcation separating the two vehicles. Bike lanes aren’t treated with the deference afforded car throughways, so cyclists are frequently forced to dart into the main road (or onto sidewalks) to avoid collision. Then there's the fact that people, whether in cars or on bikes, can behave recklessly to the point of injuring, or at least antagonizing, those with whom they share the road.
How, then, to negotiate the two different, but equally vital forms of transport? Seoul-based designer Lee Myungsu thinks he has an answer. A car owner who often commutes to his studio by bike, Myungsu devised a backpack that amplifies a cyclist’s visibility on the road. The SEIL bag (pronounced Zail) lights its wearer up and indicates to surrounding traffic in which direction the cyclist is headed—no dweeby, though very important, hand signals required.
Lee says that the project, which he recently debuted on Kickstarter, was born out of his conflicting identities. One night while driving, he found himself nearly flanked by a pack of cyclists. They moved on ahead of him and kept to a staccato-like pace. As Lee recalls, "I was thinking that they didn’t care about the drivers behind them, though we were on the same road." But his frustration was soon tempered by empathy and a contradictory sense of camaraderie: He realized he could have easily been mucking about with the people on bikes and even felt the urge to join in.
Still, from his vantage point, the cyclists were hard to keep track of as they weaved in and out of the night. He set to work on developing a device that could keep riders safer in urban environments where they shared roads with cars and eventually secured a state-sponsored grant.
The SEIL bag integrates wearable tech in an easy and practical way. The design, which was awarded a Red Dot award in 2010, uses programmable LEDs, a wireless controller, and your smartphone to illuminate the front side of a compact, gun-metal backpack.
Triggered by the handlebar-mounted controller, the waterproof LEDs display simple messages that broadcast a cyclist’s movements. Arrows are used to announce "Right" and "Left" turns, while snippets of text alert rear drivers or cyclists that you are slowing down to a "Stop." (Curiously, "Thank" was left unedited in its rather awkward state.) Additional symbols can be flashed, for "Yield" or "Cruise," as well as simple friendly gestures, like a heart sign—one among may other cyclists-are-cute-and-kind avatars that can be generated through the SEIL app.
If the project's Kickstarter campaign goes well, Lee hopes to put the SEIL bag into production by the beginning of next year. Help support him here.