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‘Insuring your future‘ is a four-part series exploring how technology is working to keep you safe as you make your way through the world. In this, the first article in the series, we look at how a variety of technologies are coming together to make cycling a safer activity than it currently is.
Cycling is great. It’s a clean, environmentally way to get the blood pumping through your veins and because you’re on two wheels instead of two legs, you get to cover a lot more ground than if you were walking. That in turn means you get to see far more of your surroundings, whether you’re eating up the miles on the road or traversing a technical mountain-bike course, the rewards are rich for your body and mind.
There are, of course, risks. The dangers faced by road bikes in traffic are well-known, mountain bikers have to face tricky terrain, and everyone is up against the limits of their own abilities.
While technology can’t eradicate all those threats, it can go a long way to lessening their impact. That’s good news, even if you’ve got comprehensive cover from an insurer like Santam. Here’s how technology is making cycling safer.
Cycling safely in traffic
You might think that cyclists will only be able to safely share roads with motorists once the latter have control of their cars taken away from them. Of course, autonomous motoring has immense potential when it comes to making public roads safer for everyone but there are more immediate attempts to resolve the problem.
One of the more notable of these attempts comes from Stellenbosch-based startup iKubu.
The company is behind a technology called Backtracker, a combination of two radar-based devices.
One device sits on the bicycle’s handlebar, the other at the back. The latter picks up cars behind the cyclist as far as 150 metres, even in areas with bad light, rain and fog. The front device notifies the cyclist, indicating the exact distance of the vehicle behind them.
iKubu started working on Backtracker primarily because founder Franz Struwig and his cyclist friends were wanted to make things a little less dangerous for themselves on the road, but now it looks like car makers are starting to pay attention too.
Volvo for instance demonstrated something pretty exciting at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The Swedish car maker unveiled technology which allows cars to communicate with cyclists, warning both whenever there’s an impending collision.
The most interesting thing about the technology is how Volvo plans to roll it out. Rather than making cyclists download an app, it’ll use an exercise tracking app — such as Strava — to send information about the cyclist’s location to the Volvo cloud. In testing, collision warnings were sent to a prototype POC helmet for the cyclist and to a head-up-display for drivers. It hardly seems like a massive stretch of the imagination to suggest that a more easily accessible solution could be available in the near future.
Protecting your head
That said, helmets in general are getting smarter and not just when it comes to protecting you from crashes. In the near future, they could also monitor the state your body’s in. One company for instance has already released a smart helmet which monitors heart rate, cadence and calories. Add a few more metrics and combine that with the ability to send that data into the cloud and you could easily imagine a future where your helmet alerts healthcare providers if your vital signs start hitting dangerous levels while you’re out on a ride.
But what about the bike?
Obviously your own safety is top priority when it comes to riding, but your bike’s pretty important too. If you’re even remotely serious about cycling, chances are you’ve dropped a good chunk of money on your bike and insured it too. If it comes down to it, there are going to be times when you’d rather fall and take a few scrapes than do serious damage to your two-wheeled steed.
But what if you didn’t have to?
The Backtracker we mentioned earlier is certainly a step in the right direction, as is the Valour — a smart bike being built by US startup Vanhawks.
The bike is covered in sensors which tell you, via vibrations in your handlebars, if something comes too close for comfort in your blind spot. It also has LEDs mounted in the handlebars, which can indicate which direction you should be heading in.
It does so by connecting with a companion app which the startup claims is able to analyse road conditions, traffic congestion and route difficulty to suggest better routes to commute by. The app also provides metrics around your ride to help improve your performance and connects to a mesh network which will alert other Valours if your bike is stolen.
Vanhawks isn’t the only one looking at making it more difficult to steal your bike either.
French company Connected Cycle has built a smart pedal that it hopes will reduce the number of bicycles stolen every year.
“In Europe six bikes are stolen every minute and everyone who cycles in a city knows that bike theft is a real problem,” Connected Cycle founder Jean-Marie Debbasch told the BBC at CES this year.
The company’s pedal doesn’t look all that different from other pedals but includes a GPS, GPRS connection and also a sensor that captures your activity. That information is sent to the cloud and is displayed on a smartphone app. It is totally autonomous, has its own generation of energy and internet connection meaning that you can easily be alerted if someone steals your bike.
The solution is obviously aimed more at commuter cyclists than those with serious performance in mind, but with a little bit of tweaking it seems like the kind of technology which could easily be adapted.
If all that tech is not enough to keep your family satisfied that you’re safe, you could always use the new Santam App with Be Safe, which allows them to keep an eye on your location while you’re out on the road. Using the app, you can set a different “guardian” for each journey. Once you’ve started your trip, they will securely be sent the relevant details, including your start and end points and how long you expect to get from one to the other. You can nominate Guardians from your phone’s contacts and they don’t even need a smartphone to follow you, as SMS alerts are sent out. The app is available for download on iOS and Android.