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Ford cycling jacket prompts riders to turn, shows others when they do

Finding the way through busy streets on two wheels can be daunting and for cyclists who take their eyes off the road to glance at navigation apps, this can also increase risk – both for them and for other road-users and pedestrians.

Now, a group of cycle-enthusiast employees at Ford have come up with a unique wearable that enables riders to find their way around more easily, and to more clearly display their presence and intentions to others, while connected to an app.

“At Ford, we want to help people – and goods – move more safely, confidently and freely around our cities,” said Tom Thompson, project lead for the Ford Smart Mobility team. “The smart jacket concept helps us to better understand how the different players that are a part of the urban mobility ecosystem – cyclists, cars, and pedestrians – can better co-exist through the application of smart technologies and how we can apply those learnings to future ideas.”

The smart jacket concept has sleeves that light up to show when wearers plan to turn right or left. Wirelessly connected to a smartphone, the jacket’s bike-friendly navigation app vibrates the appropriate sleeve, so riders know which way to go, using routes that avoid busy roads and junctions.

And there is no need for cyclists to take their eyes off the road or their hands off the handlebars to consult a smartphone screen. Audible and haptic interfaces enable riders to take calls, receive messages and repeat navigation guidance. The jacket also integrates a flashing brake light.

“There is an immediate change in mind-set once there is no longer any need to stop to consult navigation apps directly on your phone – or worry if you’re heading into a particularly busy or dangerous road junction,” said Thompson who helped to develop the jacket in his spare time.

The passionate team of cyclists who developed the jacket and have been trialling it on their daily cycle commute to the Ford Smart Mobility Innovation offices in London are charged with researching the “last-mile” challenge. This refers to the last-leg of a journey not only in the context of a personal commute but also around delivering goods and services in dense and congested urban environments. This leg is generally associated with higher cost and more complexity.

The smart jacket concept ties into Ford’s “Share The Road” campaign that aims to foster greater harmony and empathy between both drivers and cyclists. It also coincides in the UK with a week when cycling and technology take centre stage through Bike Week UK and London Tech Week 2018.

Bicycles are becoming ever more popular in urban environments for commuting, for recreation and for delivering goods and services. During the morning peak, cycling is in fact the most popular mode of transport in the City of London, one of Greater London’s districts, where around three times as many people now ride compared with in 1999. *

Developed with urban cycling clothing specialists Lumo and mobility software experts Tome, the smart jacket concept underlines Ford’s collaborative approach to innovation. Further advanced features in the pipeline would enable commercial dispatch riders to access calls and messages using hand gestures and voice commands. The use of bone-conduction headphones avoids blocking out sounds from pedestrians and other road users, as earbud headphones might do – sending sound to the inner ear via vibrations to the jawbone.

For now, the smart jacket remains a prototype. However, Ford is in the process of securing the patent that it might in future be further developed or licenced to others, along with the companion app and know-how.

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* The number of cyclists counted during the morning peak hour has more than doubled since 2007, making it the single largest mode of transport counted on City streets from 08:00 to 09:00. http://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=392&MId=20041

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