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Q&A with Core77 design winner: Project Aura, bike safety lights

Ben Kaufman’s company, Quirky, is all about finding great ideas from regular people and turning them into real, marketable products, and Core77 is all about covering the best and latest in design and technology. Throughout the Quirky series, we’ll be bringing you stories from designers, inventors and entrepreneurs who’ve either already brought their product from concept to completion or are right in the middle of that process – and all without the help of a company like Ben’s.

Today we bring you the story of Project Aura, winner of the Core77 Design Award for Transportation. Designed by Ethan Frier, Jonathan Ota.

Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited, and why?

Riding at night can be a daunting and dangerous task, one that many bike commuters deal with daily. We’re both bikers and we know how intimidating it sometimes is to be cycling on the same roads as a car or truck weighing a hundred times what we do – being pushed to the far edges of the road shoulder and worrying about the large consequences of a driver’s small mistake. We wanted to develop a system that increased the visual presence of bikers at night.

Attachable front and rear lights are great at making riders seen, but they’re not always the most effective way of increasing visibility to all motorists, especially from the side. Additionally, front and rear lights do little to identify a biker as a biker as opposed to an ambiguous blinking point of light. Many bikes have reflectors on them, both on the wheels and the frame. But reflectors are only effective when they are in the direct headlight of an automobile, an inelegant solution at best. By illuminating the rims, we’ve created an immediate, formal context for drivers to identify bikers as bikers and take the appropriate measures to drive safely in their vicinity. The goal of the project was to rethink the paradigm of bike lights, while increasing convenience and safely and integrating everything into a package that didn’t detract from the pure aesthetic of the bike coveted by riders themselves.

What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?

Coming from our biking background, we had a better picture of the problem we set out to confront. We’re passionate about our bikes; We see them as extensions of ourselves. We observed that other cyclists are passionate about their’s as well, leading us to determine whatever product or system we created, it had to be as transparent and visually clean as possible.

When designing this project, whose interested did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audience, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc.)

Project Aura deals directly with mistakes both bikers and drivers make in regards to safety. Our design better informs drivers about the biker’s presence and actions as compared to bike lighting systems commonly used (front and rear blinky). In almost all accident scenarios, a root cause of the accident is a lack of information on the part of one or both of the parties involved. It’s easy not to see a biker at night. Project Aura brings riders to a driver’s attention without being obnoxious or intrusive, by emphasizing the form factor of the bike through light. Our design also deals directly with some of the deadly decisions bikers make in regard to safety, primarily decisions motivated by laziness and the lacking ‘cool factor’ of bike lights.

Blinky lights are not hip or beautiful. They rarely integrate well with the bike and it can be a hassle to turn on multiple, individual lights. Our design is self powered and needs not be turned on or off (If you really want to there’s a switch located on the handlebars, but your hands never have to leave the bars to activate it.). One of the biggest issues this project addresses compared to conventional lighting setups is the streamlining of the system. Bikes are fashion items and riders don’t want to clutter their rides with ugly clip-on lights. Project Aura is completely integrated into the rims of the bike, leaving the aesthetics of whatever ride you choose to sport, completely unblemished.

Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, mat

We used the US Department of Transportation & National Highway Safety Administration 2009 Traffic Safety Report and the Compendium of NHTSA’s Pedestrian and Bicyclist Traffic Safety Research Projects 1969-2007 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (most recent reposts that were available at the time). In these documents, a considerable amount of research had been done to outline the most common factors that lead to an accident. As explained in the NHTSA report, there are six sequence of events that lead to a collision: search, detect, evaluation, decision, action and vehicle response. A failure of either the cyclist or the driver to carry out any of the six events will result in a collision. We were also influenced by the number of accidents that occurred at intersections: 36%.

What is the social value of your design?

Project Aura is a safety device, designed to better the relationship between riders and drivers. It’s about communication. Hopefully, through enhanced communication between riders and drivers, we can make the roads safer for all parities involved. But the project works on other levels as well. The immediate reaction everybody has is “Wow cool. What is that?” And that’s an important thing – that on a purely surface level we’ve created something freakin’ cool. But neither of us see good design as just being flashy or fashionable; It has to enhance peoples’ experiences. Good design has the right combination of beauty, novelty, functionality and desirability, and we did our very best to mix just the right amount of each to arrive at a successful resolution that challenged current lighting systems and will possibly save lives in the process as well.

If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?

One aspect we could have delved further into would be the actual usage of our product and how it would affect the riding patterns of the cyclist. We managed to create a functional prototype and test the visibility of the bicycle from different distances, but we didn’t fully test how the product affected the rider his/herself.

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