Backtracker: Radar Scanning for Cycling Safety
- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 5 July 2014
It sounds like something out of a sci-fi story; an on-bike scanner which detects vehicles approaching from behind and provides visual feedback for the rider. The idea for the Backtracker, however, has been four years in the making by an established team in Stellenbosch, South Africa and they want to give confidence and enjoyment back to cyclists on the road. The team behind this cycling safety device have turned to crowd-funding to raise $226,000 (USD) to get the Backtracker into production and start shipping in December.
I asked the managing director, Franz Stuwig of Ikubu, the company behind the Backtracker, a few questions about this innovative new product, but before we get to them, lets have a look at exactly what the Backtracker does.
In short, a rear mounted compact radar detects traffic approaching from behind, and the vehicle information, distance, and speed is displayed on a small monitor mounted on the handlebars. The rear mounted radar unit also includes a rear red light which flashes with an increasing frequency as a vehicle comes nearer. While it competes with a simple rear-view mirror, the Backtracker technology provides useful information to help a bike rider better anticipate traffic.
So how does the Backtracker distinguish between a vehicle and other obstacles on the road, or vehicles coming from the other direction?
Franz Stuwig says that “Radar is quite intelligent, so we can easily filter out cars going in the opposite direction or static objects.”
What type of reaction would or should a cyclist have knowing that a vehicle is approaching fast? Should you hold your line, or move to the side defensively?
“Great question! The purpose of Backtracker is not to warn cyclists. It is rather to give you information of what’s going on behind you, so that you can make the best decision given your unique context.” says Struwig, “As an example, if a cyclist is on a very hairy piece of road, with no space to move, you may want to get off the road if you see a car approaching. Other times you may feel visibility is good, and the shoulder is big enough, so simply holding your line should be fine.”
“Backtracker knows if a car is going a lot faster than the normal traffic on that stretch of road, and we can also see if it’s a truck. We use this information to provide some extra info to the cyclist by changing the color of the threat indicator – but ultimately the cyclist knows best how to interpret this.”
The blinking light gets faster as a vehicle approach, does this help the motorist be more aware and react more safely?
“This is a very interesting part of Backtracker.” suggests Struwig, “As a motorist, you actually get a very good sense of closing distance as the frequency of the pulsing light increases. Its very intuitive, and its difficult to ignore. We’re also able to increase the brightness of the backlight significantly when there is traffic, and save on battery life when things are quiet. By engaging motorists, we believe we’re positioning Backtracker as a highly proactive safety measure.”
If the recent success of the Fly6 is any indication, the Backtracker is well on its way to funding. It’s also a good example of using creative solutions and innovation to help make life better on the road for bicycles.
Images courtesy of Backtracker