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Project Aura: a gorgeous take on bicycle lighting

Ethan Frier and Jonathan Ota, two industrial design students at Carnegie Mellon University, noticed a problem with night time bicycle safety. Specifically, how do you ensure side visibility when your lights are angled forward and back? Their solution is both unique and beautiful.

They placed a series of RGB LED lights inside the wheel rims. The lights are powered simply by pedaling. They are also programmed to change color from red to white as the bike speeds up and slows down, which provides a stunning and noticeable visual effect.

According to their project blog they are currently figuring out how to commercialize their creation. Keep your eyes peeled on the streets and in local bike shops.

Hat tip to Silas Grant, whose tweet first brought the video to my attention.

Matt Rumsey moved to D.C in 2005 to pursue a degree in History at American University. Originally from Connecticut, he has had no intention of leaving D.C. since he moved to Columbia Heights in the summer of 2008. He now lives in Ward 5. He currently works at The Sunlight Foundation. Views here are his own. 


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The basic idea of lights in the wheel is far from new, but this is a neat twist.

by Gavin on Jul 7, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

Oh, drilling the LEDs straight into the rims was awfully clever (they get super bonus points if they can figure out a way to use the spokes to deliver power and lose the wire).

However, I wouldn't mind carrying a tiny battery pack, to avoid the weight and rolling resistance of a dynamo.

(Also, the guy in the video has no front or rear lights, and you can tell that the exposure on their video camera is turned way up. I'd like to see one of these in real life.)

by andrew on Jul 7, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

might not be a dynamo; there are some lighting system powered by magnets with almost zero drag. I could imagine a LED system could be light by that -- in fact, there is a german company that makes them as well.

adding accelerometers is a nice touch.

by charlie on Jul 7, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

D'awww, I just got a little homesick for my alma mater.

More seriously, charlie, they point out how it works at the end of the video, and specify that they use a dynamo.

by Adam S on Jul 7, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

As someone easily distracted by shining lights, I love this idea.

by Adam L on Jul 7, 2011 2:49 pm • linkreport

Hmmm... I have about 3 meters of leftoever LED strip lighting from a bathroom remodel project that I could use to put together the same setup. I'm thinking that as cool as the hub generator is (and the slip ring is genius!) battery might be easier too.
I think that the color change functionality could be achieved with an Arduino board + accelerometer too. The accelerometer could drive a voltage signal from the board to supply the RGB contacts to switch from Green/White to Red when deccelerating.
This would be a really fun project to do. I'll have to add it to the list:

$75 Sous-vide cooker
LED turn-signals for my messenger bag
DIY- bike repair stand

by Bilsko on Jul 7, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

Looks cool. Probably does next to nil with regards to safety.

by Geof Gee on Jul 7, 2011 4:32 pm • linkreport

While this is more elegant looking, electroluminescent wire provides good side lighting when flashing and is much cheaper and easier to install than most other options. For example, see:

by Dan H on Jul 7, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

LOOKS LIKE TRON!! I want, even if it doesn't make me more visible.

by M on Jul 7, 2011 4:46 pm • linkreport

Reminds me of the SpokePOV kit from Lady Ada

I bet you could power the POV toy with the setup these guys use instead of batteries.

by Pdags on Jul 7, 2011 4:55 pm • linkreport

Looks great: I want it.

At the same time: I know it looks cool, but dude needs to ALSO have head and tail lamps.

by SJE on Jul 7, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

Not much visibility from directly behind and directly in front. I would not get this because of that.

by Jazzy on Jul 7, 2011 6:37 pm • linkreport

It's beautiful and ingenious work, in execution and presentation.

I question the concept, though.

I doubt that side lighting contributes much to safety. If a rider in motion is directly in front of an accelerating car, wouldn't the rider's path would carry him out of the car's way? Cyclists need to be visible to drivers who are ahead and slightly to the side, and for that, they need bright, wide-angled headlights. Side lighting just impresses people who you're leaving behind.

This is going to be a pricey product. A similar investment in front and rear lights would get a rider a high-end set of lights instead.

by David R. on Jul 7, 2011 7:19 pm • linkreport

David R, think of intersections where the bike is on the main street (no stop) and a car is at a stop waiting to cross. Perhaps the driver was looking left, a car passes, they glance right and then move forward, not noticing the bike directly in front of them. These lights would help.

Also helps at midblock crosswalks where bikes have the ROW.

by JJJJJ on Jul 8, 2011 2:44 am • linkreport

So let's get this straight -- they wanted to build a prototype bike for a new safety system, so they used a singlespeed (it's not fixed gear, you can see him coast in the video) with only a front brake. #fail

by T on Jul 8, 2011 3:13 am • linkreport

Yawn. I've had tire lights on my bike for years.

by Jasper on Jul 8, 2011 8:45 am • linkreport

I'm not sure if this would really help. From what I can see in the video, these flashing lights get your attention, but don't help me determine speed or distance to the bike (or what those lights are!). Also, some people are sensitive to flashing lights (photosensitive) and this would be very distracting. It's a nice effort, but more work needs to be done to make this a useful indicator for drivers at night. Things look weird at night. I'm thinking of the reflective tape on hi-visibility saftey vests. It's location is there to give an approaching driver an idea that this is a person, not a road sign. Night safety is more involved than flashing lights and reflectors, they need to communicate.

by G on Jul 8, 2011 9:29 am • linkreport

Make the lights on the left side of the rim red. right side green etc...and you add directionality as the navigational lights if water vessels according to COLREG - in other words, don't reinvent the wheel ;-)

by Ken on Jul 8, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

I love it. I would totally buy this. Even if the safety benefits are not as great as they promise, it still makes bicycling look more fun and appealing. And I think we can agree that more people riding bikes is something we all want.

by Phil LaCombe on Jul 8, 2011 1:36 pm • linkreport

It makes sense to do this on a fixie for engineering reasons, at least initially. You want to focus on the lights, and not all the other wires etc.

One downside to consider is that they wire inside the rims, which means that they weaken the structure. OTOH, it means that you will need to buy the rims and the lights together, which is good from the commercialization POV, as you can justify the higher mark up. I hope these guys are getting IP protection.

by SJE on Jul 8, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

My Vittoria Randonneurs came with reflective sidewalls which do pretty much the same thing,but add no real extra weight,require no wiring or maintenance,and still reflect when the bike isn't in motion. I think I'll stay with these and my PB Blaze/Superfash combo.

by dynaryder on Jul 8, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

in terms of side visibility, cyclist safety is generally not a lighting problem, but rather a problem in the layout of the street. the problem is usually for ex. right hook, where the motorist is looking left at oncoming traffic, and they don't look right to where they are going until after they have already run over you. The solution has more to do with putting in bulb-outs between the bike lane and the motor vehicle lane, such that the driver has to look how to drive around the wide radius before they get to where the cyclists would be crossing the intersection. Cutting the corner too narrow is the crux of the problem.

by Lee on Jul 9, 2011 9:55 am • linkreport

looks cool. would be even better if a small line could link the bike helmet ... the lit up helmet would give the visibility that simple side lights don't. Not sure that it would be practical. A little worry also that the illuminated bikes would just make them more attractive to steal. interesting concept overall.

by Tom Sherwood on Jul 10, 2011 8:37 pm • linkreport

Great idea. However, I'll go one better.
Don't ride at night!

by LWS on Jul 12, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

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