Over the course of our eight-week Open Innovation programme, we’ll be putting a series of quick-fire questions to our finalists to find out a bit more about where they’ve come from and what their plans are for shaping the future of our cities.
Today, in our final Q&A, we hear from See.Sense co-founder, Irene McAleese…
Who’s behind See.Sense? Tell us how it all started…
Everyone knows that bike lights are useful bits of kit for staying safe on the road. But imagine if they could take safety to the next level and tell you about accident-prone areas to avoid, even informing city planning how to create safer roads? Imagine, too, if they could notify your friend if you have an accident? Or deter bike thieves? Or help the city plan to get rid of potholes?
This is no longer in the realms of imagination. Precisely this technology, developed by our cycling technology company See.Sense, is available right now and is being applied in CityVerve.
See.Sense is an SME based in Northern Ireland, launched in 2013 by my husband Philip and I. Philip had previously been involved in a cycling accident by a driver who said, ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you’. He didn’t want to give up cycling and instead set about applying his training in electronic and software engineering to help devise a solution.
We both felt passionate about this so in the end decided to both give up successful corporate careers to launch See.Sense. With massive support from the cycling community, fuelled by four hugely successful crowdfunding campaigns, See.Sense has now grown to 15 employees and ships its products, which are made in Northern Ireland, into more than 70 countries around the world.
After winning the BT SME Award for Connected Cities, See.Sense was invited to undertake a pilot project with CityVerve to bring its innovative technology to Manchester. We launched our project in October 2017, which involved the distribution of the See.Sense ‘ICON’, a sensor-enabled and connected bike light, to 180 cyclist volunteers across the city.
As well as keeping the cyclist safer on the road, the ICON light gathers a wide range of anonymised sensor data to help inform city planners how to improve cycling infrastructure and policies to promote cycling in the city.
The award-winning light is designed specifically to be daylight-visible, enhancing cyclist safety in all lighting conditions. Indeed, it was recently voted ‘Best Bike Gadget’ by readers of road.cc, the UK’s biggest online cycling website.
The ICON is unique in that it is more than simply a bike light. It is also capable of gathering a broad range of anonymised sensor data.
This data collection and sensor communication works in two ways. Firstly, it enables the bike light to flash brighter and faster in riskier situations, such as crossing busy junctions or approaching roundabouts.
Secondly, it provides valuable environmental data feedback. This could be, for example, data on the quality of the road surface, or highlighting events such as near misses or traffic accidents – flagging up particularly danger-prone sections of city cycling routes.
See.Sense data is highly accurate, since it has dedicated sensors that are mounted on the bike, exposed to the environment around it. Readings are taken up to 800 times per second, compared to around every 1-2 times when using a smartphone app. This is significant when you are measuring road surface, for example.
Another key advantage is that the device is maintained by the cyclist, and they are motivated to look after it since it serves a useful purpose. This is important, since many the static data devices can be subject to vandalism.
Other advantages are that the data is real-time, mobile versus static, low cost, easy to scale up and deploy, and very importantly is also good for citizen engagement – cyclists can feel that they are helping their city and becoming city planners themselves.
Already the Manchester trial has shown the ease in which the relatively low-cost units can be deployed into large-scale urban infrastructure in a fairly organic and unobtrusive way – without the need for major technological overhauls, which often come to mind when people think of smart cities.
What attracted you to join the CityVerve Open Innovation Programme?
Crucially for the CityVerve project, the anonymised data we gather is aggregated and then made available to the wider CityVerve consortium.
By joining the CityVerve Open Innovation Programme, we saw the opportunity to have better access to stakeholders within the city, which will help us refine the value propositions we generate from our data – helping to ensure that insights generated from the data will be used to help the city make more informed decisions about investment in cycling infrastructure, improved road quality and safety and better traffic signage and signalling.
In turn this will create a better cycling experience, increasing cycling uptake and potentially improving congestion and air quality in the city.
What’s the highlight so far being on the programme?
This project is exciting from a technological perspective; but more than that, it’s a great example of companies of all shapes and sizes collaborating within the CityVerve project to deliver outcomes benefiting the citizens and businesses of Manchester.
Ultimately, the CityVerve trial in Manchester is demonstrating that there is a wide range of exciting use cases potentially possible from the real-time data collected from our lights. The hope is that this will be used to help develop a safer and better cycling experience for the people of Manchester.
Being on the programme is helping us to make the data we collect more visible to policy-makers, and from that to allow cities to take adaptive, data-driven decisions. It also has the potential to encourage improved integration of cycling into a city’s mobility plans.
What’s next for you after the programme?
Our aspiration is that the work we have undertaken with CityVerve will form a blueprint which can be replicated worldwide.
See.Sense is already engaged in a city-wide trial in Dublin, and is working on a collaboration involving Belfast City Council, where its technology has been installed inside the city bike share scheme.
We are very excited to launch our new product ‘ACE’ at the end of June, that will allow any cyclist to opt-in to data collection for their city. ACE is already the most backed bike light ever on Kickstarter, so we know cyclists are excited for this future too.