Blubel turns humble bicycle bell into an IoT satnav

Blubel turns humble bicycle bell into an IoT satnav

The bicycle bell is being taken into the digital age thanks to Blubel and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Start-up Blubel has come up with a way to help cyclists find their way around unfamiliar spaces using satnav but without the need to look at complex screens or wear headsets to listen to spoken directions. Instead, the humble, IoT-powered cycle bell takes on the burden of work, providing directions via LED lighting.

A smart bicycle bell from Blubel

The Blubel looks like a cycle bell and functions like a bell too. But inside it sits a LED-based gizmo that can navigate cyclists from A to B.

Blubel communicates with an app to obtain its cycling directions, and any of 12 LED lights illuminate to guide the cyclist on their journey. Like any satnav, Blubel notices if a cyclist makes a wrong turn and reroutes them back on track.

The Blubel unit also has a ‘park’ button which can be used to remind a cyclist where they left their bicycle, making it easy to find later on. And the unit can be taken out of the bell when a cycle is parked, so that it is safe from theft. It has a two-week battery life.

Crowdsourcing hazards

The ability of Blubel to communicate with an app means it can be used to crowdsource information too. Users can report potential hazards by ringing the bell, and these are aggregated by the app along with other journey data, and shared with other cyclists. Longer term the makers of Blubel want to share date with urban planners, local authorities and other road user groups to help improve cycling infrastructure.

A prize winning idea

Blubel is the winner of Smart City Challenge 2015. Smart City Challenge, in association with IBM, the Mayor’s Office, TfL, Tech.London and Venturespring, is an award to develop a winning Smart City app that addresses some of the biggest problems facing cities today. Blubel is also part of the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre Harwell.

Blubel is available through Kickstarter.

Talking to Internet of Business, company founder and CEO Sasha Afanasieva said: “It’s important for cyclists to be completely aware of their surroundings, particularly in regards to other traffic. It’s also crucial that the directions provided to cyclists are easy to read: you don’t have much time to look at the map or get your phone out when you’re on your bike in the middle of the city!

“For this reason we developed a very simple interface, which uses intuitive gestures to indicate both turn-by-turn navigation and a bearing of the final destination. The bearing literally points the cyclist in the right direction, so there’s no need to figure out maps and street names or listen to instructions. We’ve also added a sound alert to draw the cyclist’s attention to the device when it has fresh instructions, so that they can keep their eyes on the road.

“The benefits of having a smartphone-connected device like Blubel is that it offers more responsive navigation. For instance, if you’re lost, then the app automatically recalculates the route so there’s no need to check the phone for directions. This connectivity also facilitates the crowdsourcing feature – every time someone rings a Blubel, we can track this information with other data to calculate safer routes. Our vision is a real-time navigation system that can adapt to the ever-changing urban environment.”

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