Cycling is becoming increasingly popular in Canada and several large cities are expanding their networks of bike paths. That’s good news since cycling on city streets isn’t always a simple proposition.
But getting from point A to point B on a bike and navigating unpredictable traffic just got easier. And you don’t need a traditional GPS system designed for motorists.
That’s because several Montrealers took up the challenge of inventing a smart device that guides cyclists, enhances their visibility at night and deters theft. To find out how they solved this three-pronged puzzle we talked to Xavier Peich, co-founder of the Canadian start-up SmartHalo.
Designed with the spirit of cycling in mind
“It all began with a problem we experienced as urban cyclists,” explains Xavier. First of all there was the challenge of navigation. “When we set off somewhere and didn’t know how to get there, we would wind up riding along with one hand on the handlebars and the other on our smartphones with Google Maps open, as we tried to figure out what route to take. Let’s just say it wasn’t the safest way to cycle! So we decided to tackle the problem and that’s how SmartHalo was born.”
These enterprising cyclists were driven by another important consideration: to design something in harmony with the basic nature of the bicycle. “The bicycle hasn’t changed all that much in the last hundred years,” Xavier points out. “Although our world is becoming more and more connected, bicycles have remained part of a previous era, and that’s a good thing! Bikes are pure and simple. We wanted to give them smart capabilities without compromising that essence.”
It’s a smart and connected device for urban cyclists. It ties to the bike’s handlebars and connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth. All you have to do is enter your destination in the smartphone application which configures the route. SmartHalo guides you, free from maps and numbers, using light signals on a minimalist circular screen.
“We found the circular form particularly appealing because it makes it possible to capture the complexity of a city in a really simple and intuitive way,” remarks Xavier. “The device automatically tracks data such as distance, speed, calories expended, etc., so you don’t have to divert your attention.”
A built-in headlight comes on automatically when it gets dark as the smartphone application can detect sunset times in the riders’ time zone.
As for theft: “We also incorporated an alarm system to protect the bike from would-be thieves,” Xavier points out. It’s similar to a car alarm: the device has an internal motion sensor and if the bike gets jostled too much in its owner’s absence it will trigger a very loud alarm.”
And in case you were wondering, “it’s not possible to unhook SmartHalo from the handlebars because it can only be unlocked with a special key with which the user can remove the device to recharge it,” Xavier explains.
The device’s creators turned to crowdfunding to launch the company, but they had no doubt the product would be a hit. “We set out on KickStarter [a crowdfunding platform] with the idea that we’d raise $67,000 — the minimum we needed for the venture,” Xavier relates. “We hit that goal within 15 hours and we reached $538,000 within a month!”
“The funding was all in the form of pre-orders,” Xavier explains, “and now it’s time to deliver! Crowdfunding is a new approach. The traditional pattern is investment followed by production with the hope that the product will sell. We turned the process upside down, selling the product first and then producing it. It’s a reversal of the business cycle!”
Once the orders have been filled, SmartHalo has another mission in mind: “As soon as we’ve completed production of this product, we will turn our attention to self-serve bikes.” says Xavier. “We’ve already signed an agreement with PBSC – “Bixi International” – to design a product based on the same circle interface, but tailored to self-serve rentals. The device will guide cyclists to specific locations or to a nearby docking station where they can leave the bike.”
Does the SmartHalo team hope the device will foster road-sharing? “If it helps to make more people feel comfortable on a bicycle and more bikes begin to appear on city streets, there is likely to be a natural evolution toward greater cohabitation between motorists and cyclists. Common sense will prevail. Of all the things we can do to improve biking safety – bike paths, designated zones – the key is having more bikes on the road!” Xavier concludes.
You heard him: On your bikes, get set, go! And have a great summer!
*SmartHalo is still taking pre-orders and is offering readers of belairdirect magazine a $20 discount on all orders. Just enter the promotional code BELAIRDIRECT when making your purchase. Ride safe!