Dublin City Council (DCC) has financed five companies to trial new technologies that could improve the city’s cycle network. Here, we take a closer look.
City planning is not an easy task, with various forms of transport forced to interact with each other as roads, paths and tracks collide. It’s never safe enough, clean enough or enjoyable enough.
However, that doesn’t mean improvements are disregarded. DCC is, like many city councils throughout the world, seeking smart solutions to dumb problems.
How can sensors fix what general human intuition has failed at for decades? How can city road networks enhance the tourist experience, while also serving the business needs that finance the whole affair? Finally, how can drivers, pedestrians and cyclists co-exist?
The last of these is being looked at in a serious way in Dublin at the moment, with a small funding initiative for five companies recently announced to help improve the cycling experience.
Armed with €12,500 each, Ambie, Fluidedge, Hidnseek, See Sense and SmartCharge will now aim to prove the viability of their proposed solutions; taking in bike security, monitoring and complementary street lighting along the way.
The companies have three months to develop their solution to pre-prototype stage, after which some will be selected for further funding (up to €25,000 each) to complete their prototype solutions.
Whether it is a high-end bicycle used for racing, or an old mountain bike used to get from A to B, the threat of it being stolen by someone in a major urban area remains quite high.
According to one estimate, 20,000 bicycles are stolen in Dublin each year – what can we do to bring this number down?
Ambie’s solution is BikeLook, a project led by CEO Mark Bennett that will see sensors installed on bike racks throughout the city. They will notify cyclists that their bicycle – with their own sensor – was stolen from the rack.
If there were enough of these sensors across the city, a stolen bicycle within a 450m range of one of these racks could ping the sensor, allowing its location to be tracked across the city.
All details of the bicycle’s whereabouts can be seen on a companion app on the user’s phone with plans to launch the service across all platforms, including iOS and Android.
Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, Bennett said that along with his colleagues Wawrzyniec ‘Larry’ Wawro and Brian Henry, the trio are putting the “pedal to the metal” to get the test infrastructure in place for future trials.
To keep costs down, the Ambie team is looking at Bluetooth sensors that would allow them to build their own devices using technology like LoRa, rather than relying on commercial options.
Using such wide area IoT technology, BikeLook is already beginning a trial run with DCC to gather data on bike traffic and thefts across the city.
At the time of writing, Bennett has confirmed that one as yet unnamed university is also to begin testing the technology with a smart bike rack soon.
Cyclist visibility is something handled by both the cyclists themselves, through lighting and high-vis clothing, and the location in which they are cycling, through street lights and clear line-of-sight on roads.
DCC is clearly investing in the latter, with improved road networks and dedicated cycle paths easing the friction between cyclist and driver. The Gardaí help out on the former, with regular giveaways of lights and reflective clothing as nights grow longer and dangers rise.
With that, SmartCharge’s novel idea stands out. The company has a plan to arm bikes throughout the city with Bluetooth transmitters, as well as putting complementary receivers on street furniture dotted throughout the metropolitan area, like bollards or road signs.
These receivers light up when cyclists are within a range of 50-100m, thus alerting motorists and pedestrians to their presence.
“The device is the size of a cigarette box,” said SmartCharge’s James Fryar, hinting at the potential for widespread use.
“What we are most interested in is the combination of broadcasting and detecting; this enables a lot of what we want to do. We can obviously use it to activate street signage, but you can monitor where bicycles are being cycled, where they are parked and other things.”
With the creation of an entire tracking, logging and data harvesting system for the city’s cycle network, the benefits of visibility and security are obvious, should the project prove successful.
See Sense was founded in 2013 by husband-and-wife team Philip and Irene McAleese. The award-winning technology company is based in Newtownards, Co Down, and all of their products are manufactured in Northern Ireland.
Spurred on by his chaotic commuting experience in Singapore, Philip was inspired to create an intelligent bike light to make cyclists more visible to motorists. Enter the Icon light, launched earlier this year.
The gadget aims to combat impaired daylight visibility by using sensor technology and Cree LEDs to flash faster and brighter in hazardous areas.
However, its usefulness in this campaign is in its Find My iPhone-like tracking system. It syncs up to a smartphone app in a special theft detection mode, which sends message alerts to your phone, via Bluetooth if your bike is moved or tampered with.
Emergency details, too, can be installed into the app, which will automatically notify next of kin of your precise location in the event of a crash.
Information was crowdsourced anonymously and compiled over the last five years by See Sense to provide a clearer understanding of city infrastructure, and how it can better facilitate cyclists. The company claims that, when utilised to the full, Icon retains sensory data about collisions, near misses, uneven road surfaces etc.
Devised by former Intel Leixlip worker Xavier Torres-Tuset, HidnSeek is a low-power device attached to a bike that has the ability to generate real-time data. It can be integrated with existing data sources and information to create an overall accurate picture of the cycling experience in Dublin.
The device can measure GPS co-ordinates, speed and environmental conditions using the low-cost Sigfox network.
Sigfox is a nationwide IoT network managed in Ireland by VT Networks and enables devices to communicate in low-power, low-data bursts across a wide variety of applications.
HidnSeek was started a year ago and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign with its first GPS tracker. It featured earlier this year as a Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week.
John O’Brien, HidnSeek’s European marketing manager, explained that they plan to use other technologies “to compliment the Sigfox capability to create a more robust end user product”.
“Our product will be connecting bikes across Dublin to the internet at a low cost. It will allow bike owners to keep tabs on their bike and recover them if stolen. The city can better understand the movement of bikes in Dublin and adopt a data-driven approach to improving the bike infrastructure.
“It will also improve safety through monitoring the bike-related incidents around the city.
“Our product can be adapted for any [city] bike scheme or for an individual owner. Our approach is considering both the individual bike owner as well as the bike scheme in Dublin and other cities across Europe.”
One of the biggest problems facing Dublin cyclists is the realistic viability of their route. That can be affected by many things, from obstacles like glass or garbage on the road, to areas where cycle lanes disappear or drivers take more risks.
Bluetooth technology Liberty Bell, from website designer Fluidedge, seeks to make those obstacles more transparent and, hopefully, devise fixes. The Liberty Bell is a simple research device designed to generate data that DCC can use to improve the cyclist’s lot.
To gather the data that Fluidedge needs, volunteers install Bluetooth ‘bells’ on their bikes. To register an issue – or, indeed, something that DCC is doing well – the cyclist rings the bell.
This ‘bookmarks’ the rider’s location and the time of the incident. Later, the rider can go back into their online history and add details about why they rang the bell.
Fluidedge web developer Conor Cahill says this can be as simple as marking a pothole, or saying that you think a new bike rack was a good addition.
Aside from benefitting those who cycle for their commute, the technology may have a surprising knock-on effect for children’s safety.
Fluidedge reached out to An Taisce Green-Schools to discuss its potential. The organisation was receptive, saying that the system would be ideal for the organisation’s regular cycling audits. The use of the Liberty Bell could make it far simpler to track children’s perceptions of riding a bike.
Liberty Bell is driven by open-source content management system Drupal. The data created by volunteers will be turned into dashboards that Fluidedge can share with the council, hopefully leading to some targeted changes that will genuinely make cycling in Dublin safer and easier.
While the Liberty Bell project is currently confined to Dublin’s city limits for now, Cahill says that it will hopefully one day have a global impact.
Updated, 10.42am, 23 September 2016: This article was updated to clarify the relationship between An Taisce Green-Schools and Fluidedge.