June 19, 2019

Synchronized bike lighting inspired by nature

Having a light on your bike at night is important for safety, but what if those headlights could talk to others sharing the road with you? Well now it can, using the [Bike] Swarm by Alex Berke, Thomas Sanchez, and Kent Larson from the MIT Media Lab.

Their device—or collection of devices—controls a bicycle’s lighting via an Arduino and LED driver, and features an nRF24L01 wireless module to communicate with others in the vicinity. When another rider is encountered, the bikes sync their lights up automatically.

The team has already designed and fabricated prototypes, then strapped them onto local city bike share program bikes for testing.

It’s an interesting effect when two bikes pass, but as shown in the video below, things get much more fascinating when a handful of bikes can coordinate both their direction and light pattern.

As bikes navigate city streets after dark, they are often equipped with lights. The lights make the bikes visible to cars or other bikers, and the hazards of traffic less dangerous.

Imagine that as solitary bikes come together, their lights begin to pulsate at the same cadence. The bikers may not know each other, or may only be passing each other briefly, but for the moments they are together, their lights synchronize. The effect is a visually united presence, as groups of bikes illuminate themselves with a gently pulsing, collective light source.

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