Cycling on the highway can definitely be a risky business. If riders are distracted or have the wind in their ears, vehicles rapidly approaching from behind can be almost right on top of them before being noticed. Gadgets such as mirrors and rear-view cameras can help, although riders still have to think to check them. The Backtracker, however, uses a radar signal to automatically alert cyclists whenever a car is closing in on them.

The Backtracker consists of two modules. One of them is mounted on the seatpost, and contains a 24-GHz radar antenna, an ARM processor and a 40-lumen tail light. Using Bluetooth LE, it communicates with the other module, which sits on the handlebars.

When an approaching car closes to within 140 meters (153 yards) of the back of the cyclist, its radar reflection is picked up by the rear unit. That box sends a signal to the one in front, which alerts the rider via a row of LEDs. As the car gets closer, its increasing proximity is indicated on that display.

At the same time that this is happening, the tail light also switches from its regular slow blinking mode to one that's more rapid, in order to catch the attention of the motorist.

The modules' batteries are charged via USB, with one charge lasting for a claimed eight hours of use. The charge level for both devices is indicated through the front display, when the system is first turned on. Down the road (no pun intended), it's possible that riders may be able to use their smartphone in place of the front module.

The Backtracker is being developed by a South Africa-based team, led by inventor Franz Struwig. They're presently in the process of raising production funds, via the Dragon Innovation website. A pledge of US$199 will get you a system, when and if they're ready to go.

You can see the Backtracker in use, in the following video.

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