The relationship between cyclists and motorists can be a tense, frankly unpleasant aspect of the morning commute, but a new invention by Seattle-based company Artefact (or more specifically its incubation program, Startefact) is aiming to patch things up and hopefully save some lives in the process. BrakePack is an LED-fitted smart backpack designed to make cyclists more visible to motorists, while signalling their intentions.
Cycling – especially for commuters in urban environments – has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, but breakdowns in communication between bike riders and motorists are leading to increasing numbers of fatalities as exposed cyclists navigate the congested, dangerous roads.
To combat the risks, cyclists have attempted to make themselves more visible to drivers by donning high-visibility jackets and plastering their otherwise beautiful bikes with reflective gear. Whilst BrakePack probably isn't enough to completely replace such safety features, it would undoubtedly increase a cyclist's visibility on the road.
Alongside increasing visibility and, you know, being a backpack, the BrakePack serves the purpose of informing motorists both in front and behind the cyclist of his or her intentions. Signals can be communicated to the backpack via a user-friendly smartphone app, that sends signals to the backpack via Bluetooth LE.
The cyclist need only choose a destination via the app, and the way-finding function will automatically manipulate the RGB LEDs, allowing the user to keep both hands firmly planted on the bar and their eyes on the road. For example, when the app detects that the cyclist is coming up to a left turn, it will send a signal to light up a corresponding tab on the front straps of the backpack, and the rear left chevron.
If the user doesn't have a preset destination in mind, the indicators can be manipulated manually by simply tapping one of the bag's shoulder straps. The backpack also sports an integrated accelerometer, that detects when a bike is slowing and triggers red brake lights at the top and bottom of the bag. After use, the backpack can be charged via a wall-mounted bracket.
It is worth noting at this point that BrakePack is not the only wearable for cyclists to consider before setting out on the roads. Other offerings include Zackees cycling glove indicators and the similar wrist-worn Safe Turn Indicators. The difficulty with these systems is that the rider has to take their hands off of the bike in order for them to be seen by motorists behind.
Furthermore, the concept of a signalling backpack is not necessarily bleeding edge. Back in 2013 Gizmag covered the Safe Enjoy Interact Light (SEIL) cycling indication system. This prototype bag featured a similar indication system, albeit operated via a handlebar-mounted wireless controller. The pack even allowed for custom text messages to be displayed for drivers behind to read (which probably wouldn't be a great idea in practice).
Currently, the BrakePack is still in the prototype stage, with Artefact actively seeking partners for a commercial launch. With any luck, it will be out on the road soon, letting you ride with a little more peace of mind.
Artefact's BrakePack can be seen in use, in the video below.