Courtesy of Las Vegas
Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 | 2 a.m.
While a lot of “smart city” technology focuses on motor vehicles, one startup company wants to shift some of the emphasis toward cyclist safety.
Charles River Analytics, a Boston-based company, has created technology which allows bicycles to communicate with connected vehicles and smart-city technology to promote safer shared roadways.
The company was contacted by the city of Las Vegas to test the technology in the Innovation District downtown. It’s the first real-world testing Charles River Analytics has done with the system, which it calls Multimodal Alerting Interface with Networked Short-range Transmissions (MAIN-ST)
“This is technology that’s being pushed really hard in the automotive space,” said Michael Jenkins, senior scientist with Charles River Analytics. “ … What we’re doing is focusing on the pedestrian and bicyclist because they’re vulnerable transportation users who are often overlooked.”
The idea was funded by a $750,000 research grant awarded to the company this summer by the Federal Highway Administration that will be disbursed over two years. The FHA isn’t endorsing the MAIN-ST technology, Jenkins said, but it is interested in pushing technology forward for safer cycling.
The system employs a two-tiered approach: The bicyclist is quickly informed about what’s going on in the vicinity, and the bicycle’s location and speed are communicated to other connected devices.
A computer placed near the crankshaft of the bike runs various algorithms and prioritizes alerts to the cyclist. When an alert is needed, a message is sent via Bluetooth technology to an LED unit with a speaker installed on the handlebars.
“We get information from the network and we’re able to relay basic informantion, general warnings and high-level alerts that are used to help them make safer riding decisions,” Jenkins said.
One of the basic alerts Charles River Analytics tested out last week downtown was providing upcoming traffic light information.
“It gives them a little signal warning before it changes,” Jenkins said. “It allows them to start slowing down ahead of time or accelerate if they’re trying to make the light.”
Testing also included low-level crash detection, which alerts a cyclist if a car enters its lane to give a warning that a crash could occur, which allows the rider time to avoid a collision.
“We give the rider a warning through a visual signal which gives them the location of the car, as the car gets closer to them — just giving the rider the ability to understand the situation behind them, so they can make safer riding decisions,” Jenkins said.
A high-level crash detection test was carried out in a protected area used for defensive driving training with MAIN-ST bicycle and a connected car the city provided.
“The onboard unit sends out the same information as the low-level crash warning. But if the car is on a more imminent crash course with the rider, we can alert the cyclist with a visual location of where the collision is going to be coming from,” Jenkins said.
For example, if a cyclist is approaching an intersection and can’t see the cross traffic, and a car is approaching the intersection on a collision course with the cyclist, the system can alert the cyclist about where to look to avoid a potential crash.
“It’s all about giving the cyclist the benefit of utilizing the connected infrastructure that cars and trucks are already using,” Jenkins said.