With May being National Bicycle Safety Month, it struck me how so much of the world of mobility has improved, advanced, become exponentially safer, and most of all…connected. Automobiles have transformed over the past ten years, able to leverage a host of technologies and improvements making the cabin safer than ever for the driver and passengers. Driver-assisted technology has unlocked a host of safety features that have saved countless lives, avoided catastrophic collisions, and spurred an entirely new set of expectations from the driver. My 16-year-old son (literally) doesn’t know why I look over my shoulder to back up, “Dad, just use the camera/display”. Automobile manufacturers are in a race to both introduce new features related to safety, as well as march determinedly to fully driverless vehicles. Active brake assist recognizes when a vehicle in front is getting too close and coming too quickly and brakes the car automatically. Lane change assist prevents a driver from drifting into another lane. Airbag technology has advanced exponentially since its introduction in 1973. All these innovations have truly impacted and saved lives.
What also strikes me is that all this innovation could (and should) be dramatically enhanced by Connected Vehicle (V2X) technology. Having been fortunate enough to start the Cirrus by Panasonic V2X platform, I saw first-hand that connected vehicle technology would immediately and powerfully change vehicle safety, mitigate non-impaired crashes, and ultimately save lives. Still, we have yet to see the mass adoption of this amazing technology. I am inspired by the automotive OEM’s that are starting to implement the Connected Vehicle chips into their manufacturing process. From that inspiration was born our company, Spoke. Why should a cyclist’s (motor or muscular) life be any less valuable than it is when driving a car? We were determined to bring V2X technology to bikes, motorcycles, and scooters. Let’s start adding technology to vulnerable road users (VRUs) so that they too can enjoy the massive safety improvements by being connected in the very same way that vehicles are.
In reading the official summary of National Bicycle Safety Month, what was clear is that this could have been written in 1965. So much of our world has improved over the last few decades. But – the bicycle has been left behind from a safety and connectivity perspective. Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a 37% increase in bicycle fatalities in the USA. Utterly unacceptable. When a driver hits a bicycle, greater than half the time, the answer to the question “how did this happen” is “I didn’t see them.”
There are simply no silver bullets in solving this complex safety challenge for VRUs. The answers, rather, are found in a tapestry of integrated solutions. Wider bike lanes. Less traffic allowed in city centers. Bike paths away from cars. Helmets. Driver and rider responsibility. Camera and radar technology. These are but a few of the many pieces of the solution that can help to drive the 37% increase in fatalities down. But there is always more. We can (and will) introduce V2X technology into the VRU industries. Bicycles stand to gain the most, there are 4 billion unconnected bicycles in the world. We, as cyclists, are the most unprotected…as we tend to share the roadways more than pedestrians. By having V2X (or as Spoke has introduced, VRU2X ™), connected cars will actually – and in real-time – be able to “see” bikes, and bikes will “see cars”.
As a driver, to have the confidence of “knowing” a bike is behind, or in front, left or right of the car, directly into the instrument cluster is a true sea-change moment. This substantial change in perspective will, like most other technology advancements, become standard (and expected by the end-user). As a cyclist, knowing that the car “sees” you is the number one priority in any shared road experience. As with most technological advancements, this will not happen overnight, nor without lessons and improvements. But let us celebrate on this glorious Bicycle Safety Month the innovation and determination of our industry. V2X is coming…and now with VRUs included! Let’s ALL get home safe, by whatever means of transportation. Everyone deserves to be safe and connected.
Jarrett Wendt is CEO of Spoke