Emily Brooke is the Founder of Blaze, a London tech startup that creates a light to make urban cyclists visible to cars in front of them.
Cycling is booming. For convenience, expense, health and environmental reasons, more and more people are turning to the bike as their main means of urban transportation. However, personal safety is consistently given as the greatest barrier to participation.
The summer before my final year at the University in Brighton, I completed a 1,000 mile charity ride, cycling the length of the UK. The result? A severe case of the biking bug. Returning to Brighton, it did not take me long to realise that riding a bicycle in a city is a more stressful affair. Spurred on by my new-found love for cycling and my dissatisfaction with the existing urban facilities, I dedicated the final year of my Product Design course to Urban Cycling.
I attended cycling shows, joined online cycling forums, participated in “sportives”, interviewed fellow bikers, kept charging everywhere on my bicycle, and even fixed a camera on my helmet – which made for some interesting footage.
I also worked with a driving psychologist, the local bus company and spent around five months diving deep into road safety statistics and data. I analysed which accidents most commonly happen, who is involved and what are the most likely causes.
There is one piece of data that really stood out for me, and still amazes me to this day: 79 per cent of UK cycle accidents occur when the cyclist is going straight ahead and a vehicle manoeuvres into them. The most common of these we all know: a bicycle caught in a driver’s blind spot. The driver then loses sight of the cyclist and turns across its path. The second is a vehicle pulling out of a side junction and into the path of an oncoming cyclist.
In both these situations, the threat is in front of the bicycle – the bicycle rider can often see the vehicle, but the vehicle driver fails to see the cyclist, or only sees them once it is too late to avert an accident.
My moment of inspiration came when cycling through the city. Approaching a junction, I found myself wishing I were just five yards ahead – that I could be just in front of my current position and alert drivers of my approach. I suddenly realised I could “project myself” there. And so, the Laserlight was born.
The Laserlight in action. Image: Blaze.
The Blaze Laserlight was my final year university project. It includes a front-facing white light, that all cyclist are required to have by law; but it also has a green laser that projects the symbol of a bike down onto the road ahead. It alerts drivers to the bike’s presence, and prevents them turning across its path.
The advance laser feature is transformative for bicycle lights. It not only gives the cyclist visibility out of their usual footprint on the road: it also increases their chances of being seen when otherwise invisible.
It has been an incredible journey for myself and Blaze so far, from university project, through endless product design and iteration, multiple trips to China, to one of the first successful Kickstarter campaigns in the UK, and the distribution of our first product. I had never had a job before, let alone experienced the challenges of running a company.
An example of one of the many barriers we have faced lies in the internal technology we are using. The laser diodes are not the same as one would find in a laser pointer, but the very latest in optical electronics. Securing this technology at a price we can afford has been a big obstacle.
Blaze now has a small team of seven working in the creative area of Shoreditch in East London. Everyone in the team shares a passion for their bike, and a clear goal: to upgrade urban cycling. With a great number of challenges for city cyclists still unsolved, the Laserlight is just the first in a range of innovative products designed to tackle these problems.
Blaze has raised around £1.5m from various venture capitalists and private investors for the development of future products and international expansion. The Laserlight has been selling for just over a year, and we are currently shipping to 50 different countries around the world direct from our website. The US, Japan and Germany are big focuses for this year.
The Laserlight is one way for cyclists to be safer and more visible on our cities’ roads. We are witnessing a truly exciting moment of innovation and support for urban cycling. Blaze is joining many other projects to bring positive change to cities: initiatives that share our passion to make the world a more sustainable, healthier place, by encouraging more people to cycle.
Emily Brooke will be speaking at the New Cities Summit, to be held in Jakarta on 9-11 June.
This post was originally published on the New Cities Foundation’s blog.
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