I have a love-hate relationship with my 'favorite' traffic light. While it is at an important frequently-crossed intersection on one of my everyday routes, and gives me access to a low-stress neighborhood street I love to ride on, many times I spend long minutes sitting at this light, waiting and waiting for it to change to green, because my bike doesn't set off the signal.
If you spend any significant time riding your bicycle in your city, something similar has likely happened to you.
And it happens to Santa Clara, California-based Nat Collins. Collins, unlike most of us, decided to do something about it. He invented Veloloop, a 7 inch by 7 inch square of anodized aluminum antenna that attaches to the underside of a bike's chain stay. Veloloop scans for the inductive metal-detecting sensors embedded under the asphalt that help trigger green lights.
When Veloloop's antenna finds a sensor, it sends a signal at the same frequency that the scanner is looking for. And, then, voila! The sensor triggers your red light to change to green. (A spoke magnet attached to the wheel helps Veloloop sense when the bike is moving and when it is stopped. When it is stopped, Veloloop goes into active sensing mode.)
Veloloop also helps a cyclist know where to position a bike, via an LED light that flashes when it is looking for a sensor and turns solid red when the sensor is found. The detection process takes only seconds.
Veloloop will only work with intersections with inductive loop sensors in the ground, and not with video sensor units.
(Magnets don't work to set off inductive loop sensors, Collins explains, because they don't create an alternating high-frequency field that can alert the underground sensors. Cars alert the sensors because their large mass changes the inductance, while bikes' lighter mass do not.)
Currently Collins is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund manufacturing of the Veloloop, ad while the campaign is at its halfway point it is nowhere near halfway funded - Collins' goal is for $84,000. Perhaps prospective customers are daunted by the price - the Veloloop, which runs on AA batteries, costs $99 during the campaign.
That seems like a steep price for a technology to help you trigger green lights at intersections. Perhaps it will depend on how much time an individual cyclist spends waiting for light changes in the course of a normal commute. Translate that time spent into dollars and cents and maybe it will be an affordable choice!
Collins is planning a motorcycle version of the Veloloop for next year.