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Firm that brought the world the Sony Walkman says unmanned Cyclodrone aircraft could alert motorists to cyclist's presence

The product design firm that brought the world the Sony Walkman has unveiled a conceptual design of a drone that it says could help improve the safety of lone bike riders.

Drones have attracted a lot of attention due to their use by the military as well as strong rumours, neither confirmed nor denied by the Metropolitan Police, that they were deployed above London during the Olympic Games in 2012.

They were back in the headlines last month as a result of the news that Amazon.com is considering using them for deliveries.

That’s despite the fact that the unmanned aircraft have not yet having been approved for civilian use in the United States, although Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says it may be five years before they come into use.

But in a post on its Design Mind blog, the consultancy Frog highlights several potential civilian uses, included mock-ups of how they could look in action.

“This is our vision of a future where drones are not spies, weaponry or scary agents of evil; they can be trusted aids that assist humans tasked with doing some of the most dangerous work we know,” says Frog product development director, Cormac Eubanks.

And besides rescuing people trapped by forest fires or preventing avalanches, one example of that “dangerous work” appears to be riding a bicycle alone on the road.

“The Cyclodrone is a flying beacon that can be configured to fly ahead of and behind a bicycle rider on roads to improve visibility and reduce the chances of being struck by a vehicle,” writes Eubanks. 

“The drone is paired to the rider’s mobile phone and flies along a predetermined path programmed before the ride. 

“Sensors in the drone maintain a safe distance from the rider using a combination of an Infrared sensors and a WiFi connection strength. 

“The large beacon on top creates a highly visible warning to cars for safer solo outings on narrow one-lane roads and a camera records dynamic video of each ride.”

One potential drawback, of course, is that the driver may be so mesmerised by the site of the drone, particularly if they haven’t seen one before, that they fail to notice the cyclist it is designed to protect.

And while the device might be suitable in open countryside with very little traffic, how would it cope in more built-up areas with heavy congestion including high-sided vehicles, with the cyclist often moving faster than motorised traffic?

Then there’s the issue of whether civilians can actually use a drone in the first place. As with many fields of technological development, the law is slow to adapt, and as the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) points out, rules surrounding use of unmanned aircraft were drawn up primarily with model aircraft in mind.

Highlighting that “there are no established operating guidelines so operators may not be aware of the potential dangers or indeed the responsibility they have towards not endangering the public,” the CAA says:

Operators of Small Unmanned Aircraft are required…to obtain permission from the CAA before commencing a flight in certain circumstances; these circumstances cover flights for aerial work purposes and flights within a congested area, or in proximity to people or property, by Small Unmanned Aircraft equipped for any form of surveillance or data acquisition.

On the plus side, the built-in camera could be a nifty feature – imagine being able to not just fancy yourself on a solo Tour de France break while you’re out riding on your own, but being able to watch aerial shots of your bid for glory afterwards?

And just imagine some of the near-miss videos that could pop up on YouTube from riders having a drone follow them on their commute.

There’s no word on whether the drones might ever see the light of day, let alone how much they might cost, and the Design Mind piece may be nothing more than a piece of blue sky thinking, for want of a better phrase – although certainly you could imagine them being used in the emergency situations highlighted.

Their use by cyclists is therefore fanciful, perhaps – but so too, 40 years ago before the Sony Walkman came along, was the idea that you’d be able to listen to your own choice of music through headphones while on the move.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

22 comments

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Gkam84 [9080 posts] 2 years ago
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Did I sleep to long, its not April 1st is it?

I think its "pie in the sky" thinking, more than "blue sky".....

That being said, how cool would it be to have a couple of those, mount a couple of camera's and record your rides like the pro's get filmed, editing out the boring stuff and focusing on the cool, hard...etc

p.s. If you ever got something like this into the office, I bugsy first shot and review time of it  35

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gmrza [15 posts] 2 years ago
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There seems to be a very simple issue that has been overlooked: battery life. Most current small drones (quadrocopters etc.) can fly for somewhere in the region of tens of minutes at most. (In some cases only 10 minutes.) A pretty big battery would be needed for my 1h15m commute.

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notfastenough [3665 posts] 2 years ago
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I want one with enough power to carry the contents of my jersey pockets. Heck, add extra clothing and spare wheels too. In fact, give it a loudspeaker with motivational messages, and an ability to hand you gels on the move! Would be like being accompanied by your very own DS!

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Karbon Kev [688 posts] 2 years ago
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these drones could surely be put to better use than this?

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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Or they could just use their eyes...just sayin.

Quote:

these drones could surely be put to better use than this?

Already have...killing innocent people around the world by mistake it seems, perhaps they will really take riders out instead - no more problem for "them".

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WolfieSmith [1314 posts] 2 years ago
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All very well for perfect, calm weather.

I can't see such a drone surviving my last ride: 20mph gusts and hail.

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crazy-legs [724 posts] 2 years ago
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I've got a few quadcopters of these although technically only one is a "drone", the others are simple radio controlled multi-rotors.

They've used them for filming at the Indoor BMX Track in Manchester and you can see a filming run here on the DH track at Antur Stiniog.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wih58t6yqs8

That was filmed with a pilot and a camera operator - the challenges of getting one to follow pre-determined tracks without hitting obstacles and while keeping the rider in view mean that auto-following quads are a way off yet. And as gmrza mentioned, battery life on mine is about 12 minutes at best.

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allez neg [497 posts] 2 years ago
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There's a few drones on this site already!  4

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pward [88 posts] 2 years ago
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could resemble a swarm of bees on an impromptu club run / meet up too.….

Oh yes and don't forget the New Forest "factor" - I'm sure someone there can find 101 reasons to call foul.

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s_lim [175 posts] 2 years ago
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Arm that with a few Hellfires and it would definitely make countryside riding safer; nothing would keep cars/lorries honest like the thought of a few thousand flechettes zapping at you if you play silly buggers

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rix [114 posts] 2 years ago
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“The Cyclodrone is a flying beacon that can be configured to fly ahead of and behind a bicycle rider on roads to improve visibility..."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't two or four wheeled drone (the size of human) rather than flying one (of tiny size) provide better visibility.  39

This one is useless imho...

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Him Up North [235 posts] 2 years ago
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I thought "cyclodrone" was the word used to describe Andrew Gilligan's speeches...

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oozaveared [936 posts] 2 years ago
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There's already too much tech for my liking. The beauty of cycling is its simplicity and its economy

If I had to start employing hi tec micro UAVs then I would probably just take the car.

What I love about cycling is just doing it. No speedos, no video cameras, no strava, no GPS. Just me a road and a bike.

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arrieredupeleton [575 posts] 2 years ago
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oozaveared wrote:

There's already too much tech for my liking. The beauty of cycling is its simplicity and its economy

If I had to start employing hi tec micro UAVs then I would probably just take the car.

What I love about cycling is just doing it. No speedos, no video cameras, no strava, no GPS. Just me a road and a bike.

Amen to that.

...unless the drone could project images of Laura Trott's derriere (it worked for Guy Martin).

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andyp [1444 posts] 2 years ago
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'how cool would it be to have a couple of those, mount a couple of camera's and record your rides like the pro's get filmed, editing out the boring stuff and focusing on the cool, hard...etc'

Watching your own riding. Wow. Surely there are better things to do with your time...  3

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ragtimecyclist [158 posts] 2 years ago
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Drone manufacturers marketing dept:

'Right chaps, these drones of ours are getting a bad rep...so here's the plan:

We need to link the use of drones to as many things as you can possibly think of which don't involve killing innocent people. Make them seem shiny and futuristic and not in any way morally reprehensible...the media are sure to go along with this...

...any ideas?

Delivering stuff? Yes, good.

Following cyclists? Erm...bit weird but, ok, we'll give it a try...'

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Gkam84 [9080 posts] 2 years ago
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andyp wrote:

'how cool would it be to have a couple of those, mount a couple of camera's and record your rides like the pro's get filmed, editing out the boring stuff and focusing on the cool, hard...etc'

Watching your own riding. Wow. Surely there are better things to do with your time...  3

Why would I want to watch my own rides, I'm talking about recording and uploading for other suckers to watch....that's what youratube is about, isn't it?

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mikroos [257 posts] 2 years ago
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The problem we have with drivers is not the lack of drones.

In 99% cases it's that either we are not visible enough to them (which can be easily fixed with proper lights and clothing) or their stupidity (or in some cases ours, I'm afraid), which can't be fixed by any means other than strict enforcement of the law.

We don't really need drones here.

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Mikeduff [24 posts] 2 years ago
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Fly along a pre-programmed route. Brilliant. So if you change your mind on the way home and go a different way, or a road closure or accident forces you to detour, the drone just continues on its merry way without you?

And there is actually a way that exists at present to get a large bright light a few meters ahead of you in the road to alert vehicles of your presence. Yeah, it's called a light.

Great technology. Sh!t deployment. Think bigger guys, c'mon.

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Al__S [998 posts] 2 years ago
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This is clearly rot, but I reckon small camera drones (with their small downdraft) could offer an interesting option for filming bike races.

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ironmancole [321 posts] 2 years ago
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The only thing that motorists will take any notice of in order to safeguard a peaceful ride anywhere is a police motorcycle outrider.

Even then given the fact that you can unbelievably attain 40+ points and still be allowed to operate arguably the world's most efficient killing machine even this has limited value in some areas.

I don't see why, given the very blatant disregard and utter refusal of government to do anything to control vehicle driven genocide, that anyone wishing to go for a ride cannot call the police and request a motorcycle escort on the grounds that they believe their journey is likely to result in threat and/or harm.

If they refuse and you are subsequently injured you can take retrospective action for their failure to take your concerns seriously and allowing you to come to preventable harm.

Yeah, I know...but if someone called the police fearing harm and then went for that walk and got hurt as suspected are the police culpable in any way? Social workers and Baby P, NHS and rogue surgeons...all public bodies with responsibility to the public who failed to prevent foreseeable harm through lack of action.

If government, as they seem to be, are that hell bent on fostering obesity and car centred societies at all cost then surely the cost of protecting vulnerable road users is something they should factor in.

Yes I'm pushing boundaries but I remain hesitant to believe that there is no legal challenge or loophole the vulnerable can't employ to demand government affords us the protection we clearly need so desperately.

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Matt eaton [742 posts] 2 years ago
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I like the idea of drones for self-filmed efforts. I'm not talking about 4 hours of plugging away on the road but if a drone could actually follow you and keep you in shot at the trails or on a DH run that would be pretty cool particuarally if it could fly alongside you too given different camera angle options.

As for keeping you safe on the road they'd be pretty useless. They might capture some more usefull footage than a helmet cam in some conflict situations but I suspect that the reverse could also be true depending on the circumstances.