Just what we needed dept.: A heads-up display in a bicycle helmet

Helmet display
© Future Cities Catapult

In a confused article on PSFK, Ido Lechner channels Dorothy Rabinowitz and suggests that a) New York drivers are frustrated by bike lanes that are stealing parking spaces and driving lanes for the benefit of take-out delivery people and casual riders, and b) "the growing number of people encouraged to abandon their cars or the subway in favor of a more health-minded and eco-friendly pursuit inevitably spikes the number of biker-related casualties." Now it is true that some drivers don't like having to share the road with the thousands of cyclists now commuting every day in those bike lanes which serve a lot more than delivery people and casual riders. But it is not true that biker-related casualties are spiking. They are going down because there is safety in numbers.

Given that kind of start, it is no surprise that the author of two such contradictory and wrong statements likes this new bicycle helmet envisioned by the Future Cities Catapult.

The magical helmet has a heads-up display so that the cyclist never takes their eyes off the road. The helmet has sensors, gyroscopes and GPS so that it can give directions and supply information about the city and prevent cyclists from being squished by HGVs (big trucks in Britspeak) and buses.

In London a major cause of cyclist fatality is from 'heavy goods vehicles' (HGVs) turning left across their path. Yet machine-to-machine technologies could enable HGVs or buses to 'spot' oncoming cyclists. Simple projectors, via laser or equivalent, installed on such vehicles could detect and project the outline of their blind spots into the path of oncoming cyclists.

pollution detecting bike© Future Cities Catapult

Then there is the issue of pollution, often caused by those big trucks and idling cars. So lets just nudge the cyclists off the direct routes for the good of their health and safety instead of dealing with the sources of pollution.

A device that indicates pollution levels on streets ahead could support cyclists making more informed choices about the healthiest routes for them to take. Air pollution can be very bad on many London streets because of the 'canyon effect', with cyclists vulnerable to fumes in central traffic lanes. Nudging cyclists onto the back-street network could be healthier and potentially safer.

There would be a special feature for bike share programs:

By choosing to enter the destination at the docking station, a simple indicator, mounted on the handlebars or basket, would help keep the cyclist on path to that destination, giving minimal information but signalling any wrong turns.

The problem with this device is the same one that I had with the Volvo helmet: with proper cycling infrastructure cyclists don't get the right hook by turning trucks and buses. With decent pollution control regulations on cars cyclists wouldn't have to take longer alternative routes to avoid pollution. The helmet is shifting responsibility from the drivers who should be looking in their mirrors and from the civic authorities who don't provide proper infrastructure onto the head of the cyclist.

And really, everybody already owns a pretty good device for giving directions in their smart phone that talks you through the route, and that adapts as you go. Programming it at a bike share docking station doesn't let you change your mind.

The only time you need to dress up like a fighter pilot with a heads up display is when you are under attack, which cyclists are every day by the enemy cars and trucks. The solution isn't a better weapon but a peace treaty that recognizes the real place of cyclists in our city and gives them a place to ride safely.

Just what we needed dept.: A heads-up display in a bicycle helmet
The answer to bike safety isn't to turn us all into fighter pilots.

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