Bike helmet with signal lights controlled by head tilting

Last night I went to Crash Space, a hackerspace in Los Angeles, to see the cool things that its members have been working on. One of my favorite projects was Naim Busek's "Bike Luminance," a signal light that you can attach to a bike helmet so drivers can see where you are and where you plan to go. When you tilt your head back, the bright LED light strips blink red. When you tilt forward they turn green. When you tilt your head to one side or the other, the light strips become turn signals.

He's seeking funding on Kickstarter


    1. Awesome.  I wonder if it’d be legal where I live, where stupidly, bicycle helmets are compulsory when you ride a bike?

  1. So you can accidentally indicate when you’re looking around? I know it says you can look around freely in the video but it doesn’t show what happens when you look behind you, which involves tilting the head, nor does it seem to explore the whole range of other head movements people make when cycling. I saw a good system a while ago where someone built red LEDs into their bar-ends, combined with an accelerometer, which come on when you’re slowing down or stopping, alerting people behind you without interfering with your range of motion. At least it’s not ridiculously overpriced like most cycling products are on kickstarter.

    1.  The accelerometers are filtered by ‘sharpness’ of motion, so you need to make a deliberate jerk of the head to activate them. normal movement doesn’t do it.

      1. Except it states in the video that you don’t need to jerk your head, just make a gentle tilt?

        1.  Jerk’s a bad word maybe, it has to be a deliberate motion, not violent, but sharply defined. I’ve played with the prototype a little, it takes a little time, but you get used to the activation boundaries pretty fast.

  2. Or you could just use the standard hand signals, which you hopefully already know for your jurisdiction.

    1. That’s always been my practice, but I often wonder just how many motorists know what it is I’m signaling.
      (Also, I’m sure someone will mention the darkness issue.)

      1. A high-vis, reflective jacket can take care of the darkness issue, and you don’t need to charge it. Motorists not understanding or even noticing bikes is a huge, huge problem, but it’s one that decreases as you get more cyclists on the road and people get used to them.

        Cyclist education is useful, too – learning to drive was, ironically, extremely beneficial to my bike safety, especially once I realised that simply biking where drivers expect (in the lane, not the gutter) will get you noticed more often, simply because you’re occupying the space they’re automatically checking. I used to take roundabouts in the outside lane all the way around, which cyclists are legally allowed to do in the UK, but realised pretty quickly that it’s just asking to be taken out by cars exiting the roundabout – they don’t expect anyone to be there.

    2. Try using hand signals when each hand is also having to steer or shift gears or brake at the same time.  Not that any driver ever really sees anyone on a bicycle anyway.  I know, I ride a bike.

    3.  Standard signalling is all drivers have to recognise.  Random disco lights catch attention but don’t say anything: disco lights near the midline of the rider are especially poor at signalling directional intent (which is why motorcycle indicators are on stalks: if you really want to do this, fit motorcycle indicators and their thumbswitch, which are standard tech). 

      Truth is, bike indicator lights come and go every single damn year, I’ve seen ’em since… what, the mid-eighties?  They never catch on because they are useless.

  3. Hmmm, seem to me that the forward and backward motions are backward.

    If you tilt your head back, it indicates a stop, and if you tilt your head forward it indicates forward. But if you think about the forces, if you come to a very quick stop the forces are equivalent to tilting your head forward — i.e. the acceleration as experienced by the tilt sensor is towards the front of the helmet.

    So not only will the forward light turn on if you come to a quick stop without tilting, but in order to turn on the break light you would have to tilt your head back even more than usual.

    1. The system uses a microcotroller to do digital signal processing on the acceleration. You are correct that thinking of the accelerometer sense mass will give a reversed value on that one axis. The microcontroller is using information from all three axis and sudden braking happens on a much shorter time scale than an easy tilt so it can be detected and suppressed or used to trigger the brake lights automatically.

  4. I agree with SamSam that the fore/aft tilt needs to be reversed; also I think the “brake light in front” effect of lighting the RGB LEDs in front red has to go – it’s illegal to have forward facing red lights in the US, at least… (and it’s also a bad idea, since other vehicles may misinterpret which direction you are going).

  5. There are times, such as when you’re traveling at speed over rough broken pavement0 that it just isn’t possible to stick your arm out and signal. I signal whenever I can see that knowing that I’m turning would be a useful piece of information for somebody else on the road, otherwise I just don’t think it’s that worthwhile.

  6. Sorry, that’s not right. Newton’s First Law. When you take off, your head stays behind a moment (i.e. tilts back) and when you stop your head keeps going for a moment (i.e. tilts forward). You have to fight the laws of physics to operate this thing and physics always wins, man!

    1. Or when turning to the right, your body leans into the right making your head lean left if you want to maintain sight.

      Personally, I’d love it if this system inverted its turn indicators, or at least had a switch to do so. Translating that switch into circuitry that’s light and able to be packaged in plastic is another matter!

  7. This is just eerie…  was biking home in the dark a few hour ago, and not having any lights… i thought having a knit cap with built in small superbright LED’s would be handier than attaching lights to the bike, as i won’t have to attach/detach them every time and some thin batteries could be hidden in the top of the cap for charging it easily.
    Plus the knit cap could be worn not just for biking!

    Maybe there already is such a product, as i suck at knitting it would be preferable.

    1.  Or buy a head torch, available cheaply from any outdoors supplier.  Overthinking things again! You want a torch that’s only useful when you want to wear a hat!  What if you’re wearing different hats?  Or have a huge mohawk?

      1. Because it looks cooler to have hidden lights in your hat than wearing a strap-on light on your forehead. And it would be more comfortable.
        Underthinking things again! Jeez!

  8. Another example of overthinking things, like the Kickstarter project that was profiled some time ago that incorporated a bottle opener into a seat quick release lever, a clumsy solution in search of a problem. It would be easy enough to have turn  signal buttons or a lever on your handlebars that could be activated with one finger (you know, just like the ones you have on your car’s steering wheel) without taking either hand off the handlebars, and wouldn’t necessitate learning special head movements (or worrying about accidental activation). 

  9. [EDIT: I have contacted the creator of “Bike Luminance” and it turns out we actually had the exact same idea independently of one another — serendipity! Kudos to him for trying to turn the prototype into a producible unit.]

    At the Exertion Games Lab at RMIT University in Melbourne, we developed an interactive helmet earlier this year called LumaHelm. One of the example functionalities we implemented was exactly this: left and right indicator plus breaking, controlled by head movement. It received quite some media attention* and most media (fascinated with bike safety) zoomed in on this functionality. I wonder if the conception of these two very similar ideas is just sheer coincidence, or whether his project has had a secret inspiration.

    In response to those talking about whether this would or wouldn’t work well in real-life: the two main shortcomings we noticed while testing out our own implementation, were not knowing for sure when it is on or not (you cannot see it, because it is on your head) and indeed, the tilting back for breaking is hard to do well. It would be much easier if the deceleration of the bike itself, but this would move the sensor away from the rest of the hardware, that’s on the head. I think the aforementioned idea of the LEDs in the handle bar could work well.

    * Project page of LumaHelm, including video explaining concept:

    1.  Do you have any methodology for testing if it is actually useful?  For example: testing your hat vs. regular signals in a variety of conditions and seeing if drivers get it?  Because so far, these solutions present only an assumption: MOAR DISCO GOOD.  Evidence, please.

      1. That’s an important question, but is too soon for our LumaHelm project. To explain, our prototype was aimed at starting a dialogue with helmet users. We want to find out what design opportunities an interactive helmet may offer. Now that we the concept is tangible and has some demo applications, it becomes easier for users to imagine such a concept in their own context. Promising ideas can from there on be worked out and, as you correctly say, be tested.

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