Safer Roads for Bicyclists

By Beth Bacheldor

See-mi's RFID system could reduce bicycle accidents. The "cyclist warning" display, which is mounted on traffic lights, flashes to alert drivers that there are riders in their path.

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Bicycling to work or school rather than driving is good for the environment and your health—if you can avoid getting hit by a car. Unfortunately, accidents often occur when motorists who are making right turns don't see bicyclists in their path. That could soon change, thanks to an RFID system developed by See-mi, a startup in Grenå, Denmark, that's focused on road safety.

The system consists of RFID interrogators installed on traffic lights and RFID-enabled reflectors affixed to the front of bikes. The reflectors contain semi-active UHF tags operating at 2.4 GHz . When a tag comes within 10 to 25 meters (32 to 82 feet) of an intersection, it sends a signal to the interrogator that, in turn, activates a "cyclist warning" display, which begins flashing to alert drivers. "The display is placed strategically in the line of sight of the driver and encourages him to take extra precautions to avoid any accidents when turning his heavy vehicle to the right," says Lone Husted, project manager with Mercon A/S, a privately held Danish venture capital firm that's funding See-mi.

Grenå officials tested the system this past winter in an effort to improve bicycle safety. Seven intersections were RFID-enabled, and 275 volunteers—both students and adults—were given RFID reflectors to affix to their bikes. "We have, in cooperation with the police, local authorities and school boards, chosen the most dangerous intersections for cyclists and the intersections where most school children are crossing," Husted says. ID Zone, an RFID solutions provider and systems integrator in Denmark, helped with the implementation.

See-mi experimented with other technologies, but RFID proved the most effective and reliable, Husted says. In addition, because each tag has a unique ID, municipalities could use the system to track riding patterns, then adjust traffic lights to better accommodate bicyclists at certain times of day.

It costs about $38,000 to install the See-mi system at each intersection. Pricing has not yet been set for the RFID-enabled reflectors, which will be sold to businesses, such as insurance companies, supermarkets and bicycle stores. Municipalities and schools also could purchase the reflectors for their citizens, Husted says.

Although the final test results aren't in, Grenå plans to RFID-enable about 13 more intersections in the third quarter of 2008. "We have been contacted by different countries in Europe showing great interest in the system," Husted says. "We expect See-mi will be launched in the U.S in the coming years."