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BrakePack The Smart Backpack for Urban Cyclists

Biking is one of the healthiest methods of transportation—for us and for the environment. So it’s not a surprise that in the last 15 years, the number of people who commute to work on their bikes in the US has increased by 61%.

Unfortunately, with that has come a 16% increase in automobile-related cyclist fatalities and injuries. Many of these accidents happen at night or in poor visibility. And while interest in biking and pedestrian infrastructure continues to rise, especially in cities, investment is actually slowing down.

When biking in an urban environment, it’s essential to use proper signaling and stay as visible as you can at all times. However, hand signals, especially for those of us who are less experienced bikers, make us less stable and are not very visible, unless you can hold them for a while. A risky act in itself.

And while the variety of reflectors, blinking lights, and even glow in the dark body paint is truly dazzling, ask any biker: none of these solutions are ideal. Each time you leave your bike you need to remove all of those extra accessories so they aren’t stolen. Detachable lights add clutter and distract from the style of the bike. Reflective vests and jackets are far from stylish.

That was the challenge we decided to tackle through BrakePack, our prototype for a smart backpack for the urban cyclist. A winning idea from our incubation program, Startefact, BrakePack is designed to be as safe as it is stylish, as smart as it is straightforward.

“It would be almost impossible not to notice a cyclist with a lit-up backpack in front of you. And [BrakePack] allows cyclists to keep both hands free to steer. The best part? The backpack looks really sweet.”

Molly Brown, GeekWire, May 14, 2015

“BrakePack isn't the first LED-equipped cyclist backpack we've seen, but it is the best thought out.”

John Brownlee, Fast Company, May 13, 2015

Highlights

A clear communication language

BrakePack clearly communicates the cyclist's intentions to the people who share the road. Turn signals, brake lights and hazard lights are activated automatically through the mobile app or via capacitive touch controls on the shoulder straps. The bright LEDs guarantee all-hours visibility.

A smart app for the road

The companion mobile app communicates with the built-in gyroscope and accelerometer to provide turn-by-turn navigation, automatic wayfinding and signaling, and distance, speed and performance tracking.

Stylish meets practical

The bag charges through a wall mounted wireless charger, eliminating extra cables and clutter. Removable lights and battery keep the bag looking sharp while making sure it is easy to clean.

Process

Light bright

After we sketched out initial bag concepts, we built cardboard prototypes to test the diffusion of the lights and how the patterns would display.

The right fit

The right fit required the right sewing patterns and the right fabrics. We used CORDURA nylon fabric because it defuses the light from the LEDs, creating a soft yet visible glow.

Custom details

We designed BrakePack so that the lights can be seen from the sides of the bike. The shape of the custom hook that closes the bag matches its trapezoidal angles.

Putting it to the test

Programming the accelerometer to know when the bike is breaking or turning was key. To mimic these motions, we tested the prototype by pushing volunteers around. Literally.