Wearable Tech World Feature Article
December 23, 2014

Can Volvo, POC and Ericsson's Simple Wearable Device Save Bicyclists' Lives?

I'm fond of a good bike ride myself every so often, and have a particular road in the countryside I favor for such things. But even on that quiet little strip of rutted, patched, and rutted again asphalt, I know how dangerous this pastime can be. Cars seldom expect to see such things on the road, and in the wrong situation, my much slower-moving vehicle can present real problems. That's a point that a coalition of companies is looking to address, and all from a simple wearable device.

The device in question is a development from Volvo, Ericsson, and sports protective gear maker POC, who will all come together to produce a wearable device that not only provides warning to cyclists that something is approaching, but also to car drivers. The system includes an in-car system, as well as a helmet system, that allows for a two-way proximity alarm to take place and warn both parts of a potential accident that there could be a problem in the very near future.

The system depends heavily on location data, which is constantly being uploaded to the cloud from Volvo vehicles anyway. Bicyclists, meanwhile, have access to the Strava app to upload that same data. Volvo's systems will be able to display the warning on the already-included in-car display, according to reports, though cyclists will have to pick up helmet-mounted lights that blink for an incoming proximity alert. Volvo reportedly plans to demonstrate this new technology at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) event in Las Vegas.

It's a clever enough idea, though one problem immediately jumps out: the lack of coverage. Not only are cyclists expected to buy a new tool—at least one new tool, particularly for those who don't have smartphones already—but much of this appears to be limited to Volvo vehicles. While that could just be for starters, and Volvo could pretty effectively license out the technology to other carmakers, will there really be a big rush to buy bicycle proximity alarms? Will there be enough overlap between carmakers and cyclists to make it worthwhile?

Granted, such a technology would be valuable, and has already shown to be valuable, if it works for more than just bicycles. It's one of the biggest parts of the self-driving car concept, after all. But it's not necessarily clear that Volvo's system can find an audience of sufficient size to make it worthwhile. Volvo's been at work on systems like this for some time now, meanwhile, and there are reports going back at least four years of Volvo using combinations of radar and cameras to determine the presence and location of pedestrians and, if need be, apply brakes accordingly to prevent tragedy.

It will be interesting to see if it can, of course, or if it will be swallowed up by other market developments. But that's a matter only time will tell, and it—like most of the other developments about to emerge from the CES extravaganza—will be well worth watching. This is a development worth having on hand; if it saves even one life it will be development quite effectively spent. But whether or not it can find a market, now, that's a question that needs to be answered.




Edited by Maurice Nagle




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