Lighting the way to cyclist safety

A focus on biomotion separates cyclist from bike.

The Australian national winner of the 2020 James Dyson awards has been announced and his design is set to save thousands of lives. This article and associated teaching resources are suitable for Year 8 and 10 Physics students who are learning about forces, energy and the engineering method.

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Word Count / Video Length: 470 / 2:05 mins

Tim Ottaway posing with his Project Flock bike light attached to a bike
Tim Ottaway is the Australian national winner of the 2020 James Dyson Awards. Credit: Project Flock

Cyclists are among the most vulnerable of road users. In Australia alone, the number of cyclist deaths has doubled over the past three years, leading to a number of strategies to make our roads safer for all users.

Tim Ottaway, creator of the Project Flock bike light, used his final year at RMIT Industrial Design to investigate and implement a solution to this problem, by helping cyclists become more conspicuous.

And conspicuous the innovation is: it’s taken out the Australian national winner for the James Dyson Award, an annual competition that aims to encourage student and graduate inventors who have the ambition and ability to solve tomorrow’s problems.

“The odds of injury and death are stacked heavily against you if you want to ride a bike,” Ottaway says. “I wanted to be part of evening up these odds – to see how I could provide a shorter-term solution that could help now.

“The design challenge I set myself was ‘how can I make cyclists more conspicuous’ in an attempt to prevent crashes from occurring.”

The Project Flock light draws on the concept of biomotion, lighting up the cyclist rather than the bike itself.

Credit: Project Flock

“In some ways, [the light] is more about how our brain works first,” Ottaway explains. “Our brains are capable of recognising human movement or ‘biomotion’ far sooner and on a more cognitive level than, in this case, a flashing red light. The Project Flock light makes the cyclist the first thing you see, not a bike light.”

The light is also fitted with smart sensors and an “Adaptive Lighting Engine” that reacts to the environment and then automatically adjusts lighting output to be as noticeable as possible. The light can be fitted on any bike and removed easily to be re-charged.

Conventional bike lighting systems focus on improving the visibility of the bicycle itself. This presents problems, with lights becoming overly powerful to the point of startling or blinding other road users.

As for Project Flock, Ottaway says there are two big things on the horizon. The first, the James Dyson Award international prize, which will be announced in November this year.

The second is bringing the Project Flock light to the cycling community.

“The significant increase in Australians taking up cycling during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a big motivating factor in me redoubling my efforts to get Project Flock bike light in the hands of cyclists around Australia,” Ottaway says.

As for wider issues surrounding cyclist safety, Ottaway says there’s still plenty of work to do.

“The Flock bike light can’t solve all issues associated with cycling safety,” he says. “However, it is a starting point.

“The bigger picture is about helping to educate and change infrastructure to make roads and paths a safer and more positive place for all users, particularly those who are more vulnerable, including cyclists and pedestrians.”

Authored by Amelia Nichele.

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Years: 8, 10

Topics:

Physical Sciences – Forces, Energy

Additional: Careers, Technology, Engineering.

Concepts (South Australia):

Physical Sciences – Forces and Motion, Energy