It is when cyclists interact with road traffic that danger occurs and an Irish startup is helping to reduce this risk with its Kogii light, which is a feature-rich and innovative device that improves safety by responding and reacting to road and environmental conditions to improve visibility, writes Ken Mitchell.

Last year there was a 50 per cent increase in the number of cyclists killed on our roads. This proportionally reflects a significant increase in non-fatal accidents and near misses with an average of four cyclists being hospitalised every day.

A total of 82,000 people cycle to their place of work every day in Ireland but statistics also reveal that most of these accidents happen on a Sunday, indicating that it is the hundreds of thousands of recreational cyclists that are most in danger.

With tax incentive schemes and investment in greenways and cyclepaths, more and more people are taking up this healthy activity.

It is when cyclists interact with road traffic that danger occurs and an Irish startup is helping to reduce this risk with its Kogii light, which is a feature-rich and innovative device that improves safety by responding and reacting to road and environmental conditions to improve visibility.

This smart light senses the ambient lighting conditions and adjusts its brightness in order to maximise the cyclist’s visibility.

In practical terms, this means that the light is brightest during the day for maximum effect and dims at night to avoid dazzling people while still adequately illuminating the way ahead.

In addition, the light incorporates proximity sensors, enabling it to detect vehicles and these then trigger the light to flash dynamically if they get within a dangerous range of the cyclist, increasing the chances that the vehicle driver will see the cyclist.

The light also uses motion sensors to detect the cyclist braking and illuminates like a car brake light, giving people following an indication of what is happening.

What is really innovative and ground-breaking about this product is its final feature. The data from the light’s sensors is stored and the anonymous information gathered can be used to analyse traffic patterns and road safety factors from a cyclist’s perspective.

It analyses how the cyclist moves in conjunction with their external environment and this is then combined with known locations of previously reported crashes and fatalities to further verify the analysis and predictions.

This will help develop interactive visualisation maps that will show the roads and times in which cyclists are most at risk of being in an accident.

Information like this is vital for road safety authorities, city planners and councils who can analyse and evaluate why specific roads are more dangerous than others and can subsequently prioritise and plan road safety improvements and cycling infrastructure based on this information.

In a way, this device is 'crowdsourcing' road safety.

This ingenious product was researched and developed by UCD students Karl Roe, Andrea Pignanelli and Callan Eldon as part of that university’s entrepreneurship competition.

It subsequently won the competition and the trio scooped the grand prize of €3,000. The UCD Startup Stars entrepreneurship programme supports UCD students to develop and grow startup companies.

It utilises cross-disciplinary workshops and course modules to enable the students to explore and evaluate a number of real world problems in order to develop startup solutions to address them.

Students then participated in an intensive mentoring programme which offer structured workshops, lectures from industry experts, interactive workshops and regular pitching sessions.

Karl Roe is a PhD researcher in the field of sensors, middleware and software architecture in UCD and graduated from the university with a master’s degree in computer science.

Callan Eldon is an electronic engineer and graduated from DIT with a degree in electronic and mechanical engineering.

Andrea Pignanelli is a software engineer and graduated from UCD with a master’s degree in computer science. The €3,000 prize was put to work, refining, testing and trialling the product, making it ready for market and the trio are now in discussions with investors along with planning a crowdfunding campaign.

Like a lot of great innovations, the idea was a simple one. The inventors initially came at this idea from a road safety standpoint and their desire to make cycling safer.

They realised that in order to fix a problem you must first understand it. The lack of research on road cycling safety meant they had to come up with an innovative way of collecting this data.

It is a legal requirement in Ireland - and indeed most countries - that bikes have lights and the trio realised that not only could they make a better light, they could also incorporate multiple safety functions and utilise it as a data gathering tool, thus inventing the Kogii 'smart light'.

Not just focusing on Ireland, the long-term vision is to mass produce and market their product to the general cyclist and also to governmental bodies worldwide who can best utilise the data gathering aspect, thus assisting in building a safer cycling infrastructure for tomorrow.

The worldwide potential is huge. It is the ambition of its creators that the Kogii light is used by cyclists in every city, with each user helping to provide the necessary information which will, in turn, help them make safer journeys.

The cyclist will be able to go online to the Kogii interactive map and plan their route accordingly, avoiding danger areas if possible and thus reducing the risk. I spoke to the men about their innovative new product.

What was the problem you saw/ the concept you envisaged?
The core problem is that there are an increasing number of cyclists using the roads, the number is growing year on year and so are the accident rates involving cyclists.

Annually, several cyclists are killed on our roads, with many others being seriously injured. We wanted to come up with a way of addressing this.

As we know, there are countless safety products out there to improve visibility to other roads users. The intention behind these is that improved visibility will improve the chances of a vehicle seeing you, thus reducing the chance of a collision.

This includes common items like high-viz jackets and flashing apparatus (bag dongles, helmet lights etc.). But the problem is that although these products are useful in improving the chance of you being seen, it does nothing to address the issue that roads are dangerous, and that some are more dangerous than others.

Kogii aims to improve cycling via understanding. Instead of creating a light that emits information (i.e. flashing), we have created one that takes in information too.

How did you get started and what was the aim?
The project started off because Karl cycled all the time and like many other cyclists; felt unsafe. We were in the middle of a master’s computer science or engineering degrees and thought that between us, we could create something innovative to attempt to solve or improve the problem of roads being unsafe.

Did your initial product go through many iterations/ how did you go about improving it?
Yes, there were (and still is) much testing to be completed in a product like this. It is our intention that any issues or teething problems will be removed by the time Kogii is officially launched this year. The key component in the design phase was research.

Did you hit any glitches and how were these overcome?
Just typical design issues involving the software and hardware, but these were overcome with extensive trialling, researching and testing.

Any plans going forward for continued development?
We are currently in the NovaUCD VentureLaunch Programme, due to finish at the end of November. At that time we will be seeking investment funding to continue in commercialising Kogii.

What lessons have you learnt, and what were the challenges of entire project?
Building something from scratch is hard work, there is a mix of emotions ranging from frustration to sheer delight. When we won the UCD Start-up Stars it was the most significant validation that we received that our idea had commercial potential.

But the biggest motivator is the movement behind Kogii. Cyclists are becoming increasingly intolerant to the poor infrastructures they need to navigate around, and there is an increasing pressure placed on governments and infrastructural engineers to improve the roads and make them safer for everyone.

We want to assist in that by allowing cyclists to actively contribute data to allow us to understand our roads. At the end of September, Shane Ross announced €400,000 funding for Dublin City Council to deploy smart cycling equipment.

But this will cover only cover 40 junctions, and validates the idea that it’s simply not financially feasible to scale smart-sensing to cover all roads. Kogii places the data in the hands of cyclists, we want to sense and understand from a cyclist’s perspective.

Cycling will never be a 100 per cent safe activity, there will always be risk, but if Kogii saves even a single life, or prevents a serious, life-changing accident, we would consider it a complete success.

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Author: Kenneth Mitchell, BEng, HDip, MSc CEng, MIEI, is a chartered engineer in the fields of chemical and environmental engineering