In the near future, the bicycle or e-scooter you ride to commute, run errands, or explore will be able to communicate with nearby automobiles, helping drivers become more aware of the cyclists around them.
It's a precaution that doesn't exist for riders now, but Royal Oak-based software company Tome wants to have it on the roads by 2022. Founded in 2014, Tome has been working with cycling and automotive companies and the smart city industry to develop bicycle-to-vehicle (B2V) communication technology.
Safety has become a more heightened concern in recent years as more and more cyclists and e-scooter riders have become part of the daily landscape, especially in urban areas.
"Consumers are using bicycles and scooters a lot more than they did 10 years ago. People are using them to get to and from work or just exploring," says Tome co-founder and CEO Jake Sigal. "People also are carrying around a lot more technology. We figured there has to be a way to send a message from a scooter or bike to let drivers know where they're at."
Sigal and his staff envision adding sensors to bicycles or scooters that would communicate pertinent information to vehicles by wireless connection. That information would include movement details such as the rider's speed, whether the rider is accelerating or decelerating, and which direction they're heading.
"We're not sending messages for the vehicle to slam on the brakes," Sigal says. "The (vehicle) has to decide what to do, using cameras, lidar, (and) radar to make decisions. The sensors provide more context about what's going on around cars. Drivers can't see around corners."
The company is reviewing data from various road scenarios to address safety concerns. Those scenarios include vehicles overtaking cyclists from behind (the cause of 40-45% of all vehicle-caused cyclist fatalities, according to various studies), cyclists making left turns at intersections, and vehicles backing up in driveways or suburban environments.
The project is currently in the research and development process, and Tome is working on prototypes with bike and car companies. Testing will begin next year, with pilots operating in lab settings and cities to collect data on various aspects, such as testing wireless performance.
"This really takes time and patience," Sigal says. "We're making sure we have the right partners and we're answering the right questions."
The company's immersion in B2V communication is a natural extension of its previous work. As a software services company, Tome has worked with Fortune 500 companies and bike companies including Trek Bikes and Ford Motor Co. on other safety solutions. Those have included using artificial intelligence to evaluate and identify safety measures in vulnerable roadway locations. Tome also was a founding member of the Bicycle-to-Vehicle Executive Advisory Board, which is working with cycling and automotive leaders to create cross-industry safety standards.
Expanding further on its B2V leadership, Tome recently hosted a B2V workshop in Detroit, drawing attendees from the bicycle and automotive industries, academia, and government. The goal was to discuss advanced vehicle technologies and connectivity in relation to bicycle safety.
Sigal says the workshop reinforced the feasibility of Tome's work. Both the automotive and cycling industries agreed there need to be standards "that we all share to make roads safer for cycling," he says.
As a cyclist himself, Sigal knows firsthand the dangers cyclists and scooter operators face on the road.
"What we have found working on this problem is that drivers don't want to hit cyclists any more than cyclists want to be hit," Sigal says. "The majority of people just want to be safe out there and have a safe environment in their community."