Northeastern students aim to cut bicycling deaths with sensor technology

The Boston Business Journal reports on an effort by mechanical-engineering students at Northeastern to create a sort of sensor web around a bicyclist that would alert the rider to any cars getting too close:

Laser lights are also added to the bicycle to project a bike lane onto the street, so that the cyclist knows where the bike's safe zone is. If a vehicle gets too close to the zone, the lasers - which can be seen during the day - will blink. Vibration technology on the bike will also cause the handlebars to vibrate if cyclists speed up as they approach an intersection.



    Free tagging: 


    And what is a cyclist to do

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    And what is a cyclist to do about a car, bus, or truck getting too close in the fractions of a second prior to collision? The user interface seems more like a deadly distraction than anything useful.

    Or taking the T

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    I'v never "almost" been hit by a motor vehicle while on the subway.


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    I was "almost" hit yesterday (seriously, woman making a left-hand turn at Summit apparently never bothered to look left!, and I have been in a collision twice (both times the car's fault) while on the Green Line, leading to significant delays.

    Wouldn't want to tangle with a bus while on a bike, however...

    Something I've found useful at night

    A side-mounted flashing amber light.

    Drivers intuitively stay several feet away because it flashes into their side window if they are too close.

    I also have a fairly powerful headlight that has a lower beam component that creates a sweep of light on the pavement, and drivers typically avoid that, too. I'm not sure why - I doubt that it is conscious behavior.

    Of course this won't help if you have a negligent bus driver plowing down the bike lane with no reason to think he or she is at any risk of punishment for hitting anybody.

    More details

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    on the side mounted amber light? I'm curious about adding one to my bike...I was riding on a 25 mph residential road today and an 8-seater pickup truck going 50 forced me into the gutter.

    Side mounted flasher

    In my case, I had one of those visibility vests with a strap under my arm. My mom bought me an LED flasher set with red, yellow, and green 5 LED flashers. I clipped the amber to the strap. With my hands on the handle bars, it would be visible and flash to the side, and that seems to cue drivers to keep their vehicles at a proper distance.

    I suspect that you could put one on an arm band, or mount one on a bar end, but I'm not sure how you would get one on the bike itself.

    I never had any complaints about it - it was Y2K vintage so it wasn't blindingly bright. I did get several motorists remarking how visible I was, however.

    I eventually wore it out (hardware fail after about 10 years) and haven't replaced it. I seem to have more than adequate visibility with an IKEA viz vest, helmet and seatpost rear red flashers, and a very bright head light that runs off a wheel generator (and has a capacitor for stop lights).


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    I actually found some LED lightup wristbands and wraparounds on Amazon. I bet they'd work the same. $8-$12, too.

    Sounds great

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    And as a cyclist that warning would be useful, but could they add some sensors to the cars that let drivers know that they are getting too close?

    I don't believe that there is a driver out there that intends to encroach into a cyclists space intentionally (I have been hit that way twice and still I believe that drivers are not out to kill/harm cyclists). An audible reminder about their side distances would helpful and possibly cut down on right hooks, side swipes, etc.

    They should

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    include electrodes the zaps the cyclist every time they run a red light, you know, for their safety.

    Sure but just to be fair

    For drivers, we can equip a nice big cartoon hand that slaps them off the back of the head whenever they run a red, fail to stop, fail to yeild, fail to signal, yapping on their cell phone, texting while driving, making illegal turns, parking in the bike lane or even speeding. Once they arrive at their destination of course, we wouldn't to distract the driver from tweeting about traffic conditions.

    Ya know, for safety. Totally not for useless snark.

    Why do they get a free pass?

    I'll start by saying that the vast majority of drivers are not out there to do harm/kill to cyclists. But there is a good amount of drivers that will see a cyclist and choose to pass too close, because they want to squeeze by and continue at the speed they are at/not get slowed down/are in a rush/yapping on their cell phone. We need a 3-foot passing law in this state, because currently some drivers think that 6 inches is enough space to pass safely.

    I don't understand why we need to jump through hoops to make excuses for drivers or pass it off as an accident that just happened. If a driver chooses to pass too closely to cyclist, they have broken the law.

    Personally, I don't want a driver relying on some device to tell them if they are too close to a bike. Look at the airheads in this city that blindly follow their GPS units into the train tracks.

    No, not a free pass

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    As someone who was hit twice (and ended up in the hospital and surgery twice), I am not handing out free passes or bending over backward for careless drivers. If there is technology that can alert drivers and save injuries to cyclists and pedestrians, why not? Must we all be so car/cyclist partisans as to piss on possible solutions to a problem? I hope Adam is getting a dollar for every snarky bike vs car comment that goes over 20 comments per post; someone should benefit.

    Education and Enforcement

    Its a good idea I guess but how about we educate our drivers about safe passing distances and dangers of coming too close to a cyclist? Why do we need to invent something new when drivers are responsible for passing safely as dictated by law?

    I know where my safe zone is and most daily cyclist do as well. Its just that many times drivers will not give cyclists the space they are required to by law when passing and novice riders can easily be forced far to the right, entering into the door zone. And its more than just signs and road decals saying "Bicycles may use full lane." We need legitimate effort from the City/BPD to protect riders that are buzzed daily by drivers who are either too distracted to pass safely or choose to pass too close.

    how about we educate our

    how about we educate our drivers

    Yeah, good luck with that. Once we're done, we'll educate them about stopping for crosswalks and turning right on red. We'll educate the fuck out of those motherfuckers.

    Enforcement too

    Plays a big roll too. But when even Brookline cops decide that passing a cyclist at a safe distance is overrated, you're right, what else is there to do?

    Bicycles may use full lane

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    Bicycles may use full lane

    and a corollary of that is cars, presumably, may use the full lane. Bikes often squeeze into my safe space at intersections, often when the light just turns green, and then use the opportunity to claim the lane.

    Cyclists may use the full lane

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    ONLY where that lane is not wide enough for a vehicle to pass a cyclist. However, the law does NOT give a 10 mph cyclist the right to hog the lane and intentionally block 20 mph traffic for proceeding at a reasonable speed.

    And the 3 foot rule is nonsense, as attentive cyclists and drivers can pass each other at far less distance. Enacting such a law is just another needless concession to the already too entitled bike lobby.

    I don't get it

    What is so hard about slowing down and waiting for the space to pass safely? How far over do I need to be so as not to "hog" the lane? Should I get into the door zone, which puts me at risk on the right? Or should I gamble with being farther to the left, where I might bet buzzed by a driver that decides in their mind that 6 inches is plenty of space to pass safely?

    We need laws that dictate a specific passing distance that is deemed safe. Otherwise you entitled clowns get to pass me at whatever distance you want and if you hit us, oh well it was just an accident, I didn't MEAN to hit the cyclist.

    21 states in this country already have these laws on the books. The bike lobby is working strong!

    We need laws that dictate a

    We need laws that dictate a specific passing distance that is deemed safe. Otherwise you entitled clowns get to pass me at whatever distance you want and if you hit us, oh well it was just an accident, I didn't MEAN to hit the cyclist.

    What on earth gives you the idea that this would change in the slightest if a law were passed?

    Fan of anarchy?

    Why have any laws at all if people are going to ignore them, amirite? Do you have anything of value to add or are you just gonna keep harping on that same point?

    Why have any laws at all if

    Why have any laws at all if people are going to ignore them, amirite?

    When it comes to motor vehicle laws in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that's a very good question. When drivers ignore them, and cops ignore them, what good will it do to pass more laws? You still haven't answered my previous question, of why you think passing another law to protect cyclists will have any more effect than the laws already in place.

    Ok I'll bite

    Because the current law is weak and ambiguous with regards to protecting cyclists. Amending the law to have a truly defined minimum passing distance will sink into the minds of most good drivers, much in the same way the stop signs, lights and posted speed limits do.

    Bad drivers know when they are passing too close. The problem is that right now they can just say "oh I thought I gave enough space" when they pass too close and clip/buzz a cyclist. With a 3 foot law, they don't have a leg to stand on legally if they cause a crash. Easy to understand, no?

    I understand the theory, but

    I understand the theory, but given the number of Massachusetts residents who don't seem to know that (a) it's legal to ride a bike in the street and (b) it's illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk (which has been the law for my entire life, AFAIK), it's going to take a lot more than just passing a law before this sinks in.

    Good point, education and enforcement are key

    I think another step is making people re-take the written exams, highlighting new laws and such.

    Hell, I'm 29 and I haven't been tested for driving since I was 16. Think how many laws have been updated since then.

    You forgot cyclists and pedestrians ignore laws also

    Lots of pedestrians clearly don't understand the meaning of the red hand icon. Cyclists will ignore road laws while they are unenforced and there is no penalty for not paying tickets, even trivial $20 ones. While passing distance may be subjective, not having bicycle head and tail lights at night is far more clear cut, unsafe, and still ignored by police. Perhaps not protecting cyclists from themselves is a statement by police and the state Ledgislature that they don't care about cyclists.

    Nobody cares what you think,

    Nobody cares what you think, Mark. First of all, this is completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Secondly, pedestrians and cyclists don't generally kill or maim their victims due to failure to follow the rules, which is why we're discussing the safety of bicyclists who are following the rules, and not some other dead horse that you wish to flog.

    Rules count sometimes?

    So you argue that following rules is only necessary when you think they are important? You seem to completely miss that your type of thinking is the slippery slope that feeds general disregard for rules and law. Technically, lots of stop signs ought to be yield signs resulting in treatment as yield signs because road engineers fear yield signs will be completely ignored. Its a mess we have all gotten ourselves into with relativistic thinking.

    Sorry...your "safe space?"

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    When it comes to bikes and cars, being inside the car is always the "safe space." If you have to wait three freaking seconds for the person on the bike to get themselves into THEIR "safe space" can you just maybe do that and keep everyone safe?

    Safe space does not only

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    Safe space does not only apply to physical safety. Property damage, liability, etc. Am I not entitled to be safe and free from damage to my car when a cyclist causes an accident?

    ETA: And surely a cyclist can wait the three seconds to ensure their, clearly more valuable, safe space.

    a human's life

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    is less valuable than your "property?" get bent.


    Cars pull that move with me all the time, even when I'm in the bike box AHEAD of the stop line for cars. Whats your point? I'm not entitled to the right of way once I've passed you at the light?

    Might also help

    If they could get the drivers OUT of the bike lanes. Check out Congress St. in the evening - drivers driving down several blocks of the well-marked bike lane.

    What will it take to get this enforced (repeatedly reported to BPD and Citizen's Connect)? An accident? Severe Tire Damage devices?

    Additional Sensor Protocols

    Telling the bicyclist to stop at the stop sign and then proceeding. Perhaps, stopping at the red light and proceeding when it turns green. Maybe stopping in the crosswalk for pedestrians. Just a thought.


    Telling the driver to stop at the stop sign and then proceeding. Perhaps, stopping at the red light and proceeding when it turns green. Maybe stopping in the crosswalk for pedestrians. Just a thought.

    Maybe it's just me..

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    ...But I've never found that an intersection has snuck up on me while riding a bike.

    And frankly the last thing I need when approaching an intersection, (which for any rational cyclists requires a multiple 360 degree head pivot to make sure s/he makes it through said intersection alive!) is an extra rattly handlebar in the absence of an obvious pothole!

    Future yuppie I know it's

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    Future yuppie I know it's all in good intention.
    But I think your ideas are of that of a unicorn barfing ideals. With that being said I think a better infrastructure would be the better idea! Not only that the way laws are set up in this current state show no avail to any cyclist! It's like we are veiwed as subpar or subhuman. We need to follow in footsteps of the Europeans and our east allies. Your ideas have the right intentions but they are sup par! Check mate!

    Can pedestrians use it too?

    Wow! Can this technology be applied to walking so people don't walk into poles or each other while looking down at their phones?
    Imagine the benefits for drunk people exiting bars! Such a device could protect them from walking into things.
    On the T and in bars, a proximity detector could warn of potential frottage.


    Because pedestrians walking into poles/each other causes so many more injuries than drivers plowing through crosswalks because its everyone else's fault.

    You clearly didn't get it

    I was going after the device for people with little sense of their surroundings applications. They targeted cyclists. I'm making fun of the gadget by suggesting it for pedestrians lacking in awareness. It wasn't a car vs. bike comment, just on the silliness of the device. A solution in search of a problem.

    But now that you mention it, having it project a path for bicyclists needs to be smart enough to keep them from riding on crossWALKS and sideWALKS.

    This coming from a guy which

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    This coming from a guy which had no problem with people PARKING on sideWALKS yesterday,