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Ford testing tech that allows bicycles and e-scooters to 'talk' to cars

File picture: Ford Motor Company.

File picture: Ford Motor Company.

Published Jan 14, 2021


DETROIT - If bicycles and e-scooters could "talk" to cars on the road, riders would be safer - at least in theory.

That's the idea behind a consortium of bike and scooter manufacturers coming together to develop and test new safety software that would allow forms of micromobility to communicate with nearby cars. Detroit-based Tome Software spearheaded the initiative in collaboration with firms such as Ford Motor Company, Trek Bicycle and Bosch.

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At the core of the effort is a software standard that would allow a wide range of vehicle services to exchange information in real-time so that drivers in big cities and congested areas are more aware of riders out of their line of sight. It could also trigger visible alerts on bicycles when cars get too close.

The group announced the news on Wednesday at CES, a large tech conference that's happening digitally this year.

"We have completed a critical milestone in cross-industry collaboration while we continue the research and development process through 2021 testing and on-road data collection pilots," said Jake Sigal, founder and CEO of Tome Software in a statement.

The so-called bicycle-to-vehicle (B2V) technology uses Bluetooth 5, the latest version of Bluetooth communication, to send a signal to nearby vehicles. Tome says the standard could manifest in a wide range of ways and the group is researching to figure out which implementations are the most viable.

For instance, Ford is testing it out as part of its existing advanced driver-assistance system, something that could be used in addition to sensors on a car to detect and avoid objects. The automaker acquired Spin, an e-scooter company, for a reported $100 million in 2018, and e-scooter riders represent a growing part of its mobility business.

The bicycle manufacturer Trek is adding sensors to detachable taillights that could trigger an "interruptive" flashing light pattern meant to alert motorists. The company says it's visible at all times of the day, and it claims studies show that it could decrease bike-related accidents by 33%.

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The prototype announcements come as cities roll out more bike lanes, giving people more space to commute amid an ongoing pandemic. It also trails a micromobility boom, which saw cities, including D.C., implementing e-scooter regulations as people embraced ride-sharing alternatives.

The shift from cars to smaller rides also increased scooter-related accidents, drawing more attention to safety.

Trek is one of the largest bicycle brands in the U.S. based on representation in bike shops. Ford is among the world's top automakers. Other firms represented among the consortium include the engineering company Bosch and bicycle computing firm Hammerhead as well as the cycling equipment companies Specialized, SRAM and Shimano.

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The group aims to attract other leading brands in the field.

"What we didn't want to create was like something that works on a Trek bike to communicate to a Ford car, and that's it," said Eric Bjorling, brand director at Trek. "That's just not a common enough scenario for enough cyclists to take advantage of."

The Washington Post

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