Saturday, January 12, 2013

Overture, curtain, lights. This is it, the night of nights.


I find myself thinking about bicycle lighting systems quite often. These
thoughts weren't provoked by watching the "Extreme Shepherding" viral
video, or by reading this NYT op-ed piece about "dark-season gloom and
creative fertility". The fact is, I've done lots of bike commuting requiring
night-time riding, the lights/batteries back in the 90's were definitely so-so,
thus it's easy for me to be impressed by the new LED-based products --
and based on recent news, improvements inspired by fireflies are to come.

This 2-pager "See and Be Seen" is a useful overview of bike lighting.
While I was aware that certain countries don't allow blinking lights (they
are reserved for hazards, emergency vehicles, turn indicators), I wasn't
aware that (according to the article) "flashing lights may attract the eyes 
of drunk drivers, making them more likely to hit objects with flashing lights 
than those with steady illumination". This may be part of the "moth effect".

Anyway, cities around the US including Atlanta, San Francisco, Salt Lake
City, and Champaign-Urbana have been organizing "Light The Night" events,
encouraging local cyclists to equip their bikes and enjoy safe riding at night.

Here's a description of the student event a few months ago at U of Texas in Austin:

  LIGHT | NIGHT, "the bike light dance project," raises awareness about 
  bike safety at night through an abstract dance performance that includes 
  hula hoopers, jugglers, baton twirlers and, of course, dancers all in costumes 
  that incorporate LED lights. As the sun goes down Saturday, the student 
  dancers will only be visible by the lights that illuminate their bodies. Two hundred
  and seventy bike lights will be distributed to students, faculty and staff holding 
  a valid UT ID at the event. Another 200 bike lights that were donated to the
  production will be distributed to the Austin community.

More recently, a friend made me aware of a cool innovation in bike lighting:

   "Carnegie Mellon University industrial design sophomores Jonathan Ota 
    and Ethan Frier are currently using a research grant to develop their 
    Aura system. It incorporates six groups of three tri-color LEDs embedded 
    into both rims, that are powered by a dynamo generator built into the front hub. 
    The rims start out appearing as two red circles when the bicycle is moving 
    slowly, but transition through to white as it gathers speed."

You can get a better appreciation for how Aura works from their 3-minute video.

According to this article, which mentions Aura and its SF-based rival Revolights,
" there are already various companies selling LED valve stem caps, along with 
LEDs that attach to the base of the spokes."

NJ state regulations pertaining to bikes, including lights/bells/helmets, are here.


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