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British Startup Rolls Out RFID Bike-Safety System

Cycle Alert is being tested in the cities of London and York to help truck and bus drivers view where RFID-tagged bicycles are in their vicinity, thanks to an onboard unit that warns if a bike ventures too close.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 01, 2015

Croydon, in the southern part of London, has the largest population of any of the city's boroughs. With redevelopment plans currently in the works, it expects its numbers to continue growing, leading not only to vehicular traffic congestion but also to growing hazards for bicyclists. Bikes must share the roads with cars, trucks and buses, and can often be overlooked by motorists, especially those in large vehicles. To address the risk of bicycle-vehicle collisions, Croydon's council has begun testing an RFID-based safety-awareness system to help truck drivers identify a bicycle and its approximate location if it comes in the vicinity of their vehicles. The council installed RFID readers on three trucks—known as heavy goods vehicles (HGVs)—that operate in the borough, and will then evaluate whether and how the system should be expanded and deployed permanently among both trucks and buses. The system, known as Cycle Alert, is also being tested or used in other parts of London, as well as in the city of York.

"Croydon's multibillion-pound regeneration over the coming decades will attract more and more people to live, work and shop here," says Kathy Bee, one of the borough's councilors, "and our long-term vision for safer, more sustainable transport will help make it happen."

The bicycle tag can be attached to a cyclist's handlebars or helmet.
Part of that vision is a system from the London-based startup Cycle Alert, consisting of RFID tags for bicycles, as well as readers attached to a vehicle's exterior to interrogate the cycle tags and forward the collected read data to a unit on the vehicle's dashboard.

Without the technology, truck and bus drivers must rely on mirrors and windows to view whether there are any bikes in the area as they maneuver through traffic or conduct their turns. However, there are many blind spots on such vehicles, which can sometimes lead to fatal collisions. The Croydon Council, Bee says, is focused on solutions that make it possible for bicyclists to feel more comfortable on the roads, ensuring that they are safer and thereby encouraging more commuters to leave their cars home and venture out on two wheels.

Cycle Alert's two co-founders, Robert Cooper and Peter Le Masurier, were inspired to create a technological system to prevent truck or bus collisions with bicycles after hearing a 2013 radio interview in which a distraught driver described how he unintentionally took a cyclist's life simply because he didn't see that person on the road.

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