Oct. 19, 2001 Nighttime cyclists may soon have a dramatic safety improvement that's sure to get glowing reviews: a bike that glows from stem to stern, wheels included.
Using the same technology that makes wristwatch faces light up in the dark, researchers at the University of Florida have created a bicycle with electro-luminescent panels on the frame and tire rims. The devices make the average bike visible from up to 600 feet away, significantly reducing the risk of a collision for cyclists and motorists, said Christopher Niezrecki, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering who, along with two undergraduate students, created the system.
"Drivers need to detect that there is something in the road, posing a hazard, " he said. "Second, they need to recognize that what they have detected is a bicycle."
One factor contributing to fatal nighttime bicycle accidents is riders' low visibility to motorists. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that riding after dark is roughly four times riskier than riding during the day. U.S. Dept. of Transportation studies have proven that the risk of being hit by a motorist at night is eight times lower when wearing a safety reflector.
Powered by a nine-volt battery that rests below the seat, the panels on the glowing bike last for years, according to Niezrecki. The battery can last for up to four hours when the lights are used continuously, longer when blinking. Unlike reflectors or conventional lights, the electro-luminescent lighting is not subject to dimming or fading when blocked from an external light source.
In addition, the panels may be switched off when not needed, such as during daylight hours, to extend battery life. The illumination technology appears to be perfectly suited for college campuses, where large numbers of people ride bicycles in the dark.
"It just seemed like the need was there," said Niezrecki. "There are a lot of bicyclists at the university who ride at night and are practically invisible to drivers."
The prototype, which cost Niezrecki and his team demonstrated at a Las Vegas trade show last month, cost roughly $1,500 to build. However, Niezrecki said, production models could be sell for as little as $70, and bikes could be retrofitted with the illuminated panels for about the same price.
The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance funded the glowing-bike project with a $16,000 grant.
With the novelty of a bicycle that glows in the dark and an affordable price, Niezrecki and his team anticipate the bike to be especially attractive to parents of young children.
"We're hoping it will be the next Razor scooter," he said, referring to the hot toy craze of last Christmas.
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