Fly6 – not an action camera, a safety camera
- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 19 February 2014
The Fly6 is not yet on the market, but it has already become a roaring success. The Australian inventors, Andrew Hagen and Kingsley Feigert, took the Fly6 to the crowd funding platform Kickstarter to raise $95,000 to get this into production. Within hours their ‘super early bird’ pledge was sold out and after only three days it was funded; they are currently up to $170,000 in funding and still counting.
What makes the Fly6 so special? For starters it’s a really good idea: a compact camera mounted into an LED taillight for your bike. Thankfully this camera has been well thought through and doesn’t try to compete against the growing range of sports action cameras such as GoPro, Sony Action Cam, Contour, Ghost Drift, Garmin, or Shimano.
So why use a camera on the bike if your aim isn’t to capture radical footage and spend hours watching your archived rides? As a safety backup of course. In the case of an accident, you have video footage that can be used as evidence. While very little can be done by the Police if there is an incident without a collision, in the unfortunate event of a collision the video footage can be crucial in backing up your side of the story. Most cyclists who want to capture their ride for the purpose of safety, however, will default to a sports action camera which typically faces forward and, with high resolution filming, you are lucky to get 2 hours recording time. This is not optimal for a safety camera.
The inventors, both from Perth in Western Australia, decided that filming the view behind you was the way to go with their design, and that makes a good deal of sense. Incorporating a camera into a single unit together with a bright flashing light also makes a good deal of sense. Continuing with the theme of good sense, the camera records 5 hours of footage and then loops, writing over previous footage. This means you don’t need to download and wipe the footage after every ride, and it means you won’t forget. Of course, if there is an accident, the camera includes a mechanism that will turn the unit off after an hour if it is laying on its side, so critical data isn’t lost. The camera is a set-and-forget type of product – just recharge it as you normally would with many of the current generation rear bike lights, strap it on, turn it on, and that’s it.
The Fly6 unit is heavier and bulkier than a regular rear LED bike light. It isn’t cumbersome, however, and the space appears to be used quite well with the face containing one very bright flashing LED, three softer LEDs and, surrounding the integrated camera, a circle of 8 LEDs which ‘spin’ around to signify that the camera is recording. There are two flashing sequences and the intensity of the flashing lights can be dimmed to the point where only the spinning lights (for recording) are illuminated which will suit bunch riding.
The recording resolution is 720p (1280 x 720 pixels = HD); the inventors decided on this rather than 1080p full HD in order to kept the price down. The resulting video is still sufficiently detailed to be able to decipher most vehicle number plates (more about this below). The camera comes with an 8GB Micro SD card which can be upgraded to a larger (class 10) Micro SD card if desired. Recharging is done either with the power adapter (provided) or a USB cable. At the base of the unit the silicon cap protects the connector for the USB port and also the micro SD card.
On a full charge I was able to achieve the claimed 5 hour recording time. One of the unit’s features is that it will stop recording after about 5 hours, when the battery has drained, but while it still has enough charge to power the lights and hopefully get you home.
This camera appears to be targeted towards road cyclists and it comes with a range of mounts that will even accommodate aero seat tubes, which are often neglected by many rear LED light manufacturers. In additional, this camera comes with different sized rubber ‘wedges’ for the initial setup of the mount that will ensure that the camera can be mounted appropriately regardless of the seat post angle.
Once this basic setup is complete, the camera and light unit locks onto the mount with two rubber straps that wrap around the seat post to fasten the Fly6 in place. I felt that this could possibly introduce vibration and affect the quality of the video footage, but the results were in fact good and shutter roll (jello effect) was minimal.
The Fly6 camera records in .avi format, a format that has some limitations, particularly on the mac. While VLC Player or DivX player can read and play the .avi format, the play and pause didn’t work very well, nor did shuffling (or jogging) through the footage to stop at a particular keyframe. The .avi video was difficult to convert on mac without a serious impact on the footage quality. On Windows, .avi will be easier to work with and edit. Although the Fly6 isn’t masquerading as a sports action cam, the ability to more easily use the video footage would be welcomed as this would make it easier to share shortened sequences.
The footage quality for the legibility of number plates is, in my opinion, the deciding factor for the Fly6, and I was able to decipher almost all of the number plates I recorded. Difficult light conditions, such as direct sunlight or even rain, will make it harder, but most cameras will have issues in these circumstances. If you consider a scenario where you really needed to identify a vehicle, the make and model will be comparatively easy to determine, and picking out just a few characters of the number plate should provide sufficient information for the authorities to make an identification.
In this example, the video-still is scaled and the number plate is displayed in the original size. The vehicle number plates are displayed as unordered series of screen-shots from different key frames. As an example of one of the more difficult-to-read number plates, the characters can still be identified when required. For the record, this vehicle and numberplate has been selected purely for demonstration.
In this second example, the motorist was in fact naughty (not aware of the safe passing distance required) and edged me over while overtaking. The large bright numberplate and favourable light conditions made the numberplate identification simple. The ‘original size’ numberplate is displayed in the top right while the screen-shots have been scaled to fit. The time stamp imprinted on the video is an important and useful addition although I had not set successfully setup the correct time in this example.
Other candidates who were testing a pre-production unit have pinpointed the issue of low seat posts which provided limited or no space to mount the Fly6, particularly if a saddle bag obscures the view. While this can’t be easily resolved, if you are a low-rider then keep this in mind.
After returning from a rainy ride, I noticed that some water had leaked past the silicon cap. Although a droplet was on the Micro SD card, I was able to clean it off and let it dry without any adverse effect. This is something I will keep an eye on.
While higher quality footage and improved details would be desirable, it would come at a cost. When the Fly6 goes to market in May this year it will have a very accessible retail price of $169. If you get involved and support the Fly6 kickstarter project, they still have ‘pledges’ for less than this, currently $129 (plus $10 shipping).
Further information about this product and video examples are on the website: www.fly6.com