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New gadget seeking funding could provide radar-powered warning of approaching vehicles from behind + video

New gadget Backtracker, currently seeking the necessary funding to be put into production, provides early warning of vehicles approaching from behind using radar technology and alerts their distance and speed on a handlebar-mounted device.

Backtracker is claimed to be able to detect approaching vehicles up to 140m away. A handlebar-mounted unit indicates the speed and distance of an approaching vehicle, via an array of LED lights, while the rear-mounted unit, incorporating the radar technology, lights up to alert approaching vehicles.

The inventors describe the Backtracker as a “sixth sense” and, should it work as well as claimed, could provide a safe alternative to other measures for keeping an eye on other road users behind you, such as bar end mirrors or simply looking over your shoulder.

In a study carried out for the DfT by the Transport Research Laboratory in to cycling casualties a few years back, although getting hit from behind wasn't the most common type of collision involving cyclists and motor vehicles (getting hit from the side was) it was the type most likely to kill you.

Backtracker has been developed by a team of engineers based in Stellenbosch, South Africa, who set out in 2010 to develop a product that could make cycling safer. The idea came about after meeting a cyclist fearful of vehicles approaching from behind: “The idea for Backtracker was born through a chance meeting with an elderly cyclist, who had resorted to riding in the face of oncoming traffic, for fear of motorists behind him. It inspired us to create a safety product that could bring confidence back into every ride.

"As cyclists, we know the joy of taking to the open road. We also know the dangers, and rear approaching vehicles represent the worst kind. We don’t always hear them approaching, and motorists are often blissfully unaware of cyclists. In 2010 we set the task of solving this challenge in the hope of gaining some peace of mind while enjoying the fresh air."

The Backtracker has a maximum vehicle detection range of 140m and maximum vehicle speed of 100mph. The battery lasts a claimed 8-hours and the rear LED has a peak output of 40 lumens. The two units together weigh just 130g and use Bluetooth Low Energy to communicate with each other.

You can currently pre-order the Backtracker at crowdfunding website Dragon Innovation from $149. They’ve currently raised $9,707 of their $226,000 goal. More info at www.backtracker.io

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

57 comments

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denepercy [5 posts] 3 years ago
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Pointless.

When it goes off, you'll just look behind, hence negating the need.

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don simon [1454 posts] 3 years ago
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Anything that allows me to block one of my senses must be a good idea.
Or should I just ride without the headphones in?
[Duncan Bannatyne]meh! you know what I'm going to say...[/Duncan Bannatyne]

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rich22222 [166 posts] 3 years ago
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Please pledge £250,000 to my genius idea of regularly looking over my shoulder.

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Darkerside [76 posts] 3 years ago
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140m range? So about six seconds between the first light illuminating and being hit by a car closing at 50mph.

Going to stick with listening and looking, myself.

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tom_w [219 posts] 3 years ago
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Gargghhh, I'm not sure I can take another one of these crowd funding videos with the anticipatory music that forms into a crescendo as the inventor makes the final big pitch!

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usedtobefaster [206 posts] 3 years ago
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OK so you get a warning about what's going on behind but it's not going to tell whether the vehicles going to come past too close and/or too fast and what the hell can you do about a problem coming up behind - suddenly dive off the road into the nearest hedge as it'll hurt less !

Clever but pointless ... I'm out

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pants [239 posts] 3 years ago
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After seeing the bike whiskers article this (or any other ) idea seems it will be of great use.

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pants [239 posts] 3 years ago
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How about wearing a flashing disco ball on your back? approaching vehicles will surely take notice and perhaps even slow down a bit to look at the pretty lights before running you over.

please form a orderly queue and send your monies this way for my idea.

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700c [1167 posts] 3 years ago
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Pretty good idea, IMO, but will depend on the execution in reality (eg will it just pick up motorists, or cyclists too?)

Just a little warning light to say there's something right behind you, when you may not have known about it, is pretty useful

similar idea to blind spot detection systems in cars / cyclist warning systems in HGV's , which are pretty useful inventions.

The Volvo I drive has got a fair bit of safety equipment like this, but they make it clear in the manual that it absolutely should not replace giving driving your full attention. so these things are designed as safety aids, in the event of unforseen situations, so I don't see why cyclists wouldn't wasn't the same sort of tech to keep them safe - IF it's unobtrusive and reliable..

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Chuck [590 posts] 3 years ago
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Nice idea but a bit of a solution looking for a problem IMO.
Personally I almost never get surprised by a vehicle I didn't know was behind me- YMMV if you use headphones  3
And just knowing something's there isn't all that useful- what are you going to do with that information?
Most of the things behind you won't be a problem, and even if this system could somehow detect which ones are a problem what are you going to do about it?

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Peowpeowpeowlasers [536 posts] 3 years ago
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What a stupid invention. Haven't they heard of mirrors?

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Gkam84 [9111 posts] 3 years ago
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I like the idea of the backlight increasing its flicker rate as a vehicle approaches, but I don't need the head unit to tell me there is a vehicle.....and for that reason. I'm out

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mrchrispy [495 posts] 3 years ago
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How about a kickstarter for a subtle automatic top tube mounted gravel chip launcher. Anything that passes too close and fast gets a stone fired at then (maybe about window height)....the usual suspects would soon start giving bikes more room.

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700c [1167 posts] 3 years ago
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Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:

What a stupid invention. Haven't they heard of mirrors?

But how many cyclists have them on their bike?

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Beatnik69 [396 posts] 3 years ago
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Substitute rocket launcher for gravel chip launcher and you're talking my language.  21

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earth [373 posts] 3 years ago
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On the one hand its a bit like the NASA space pen - ie just use a mirror.

On the other hand I would replace the LED head unit with an app for a phone or just an audio alarm. I already have enough on my bars and there would not be enough room for another gadget.

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Yorkshie Whippet [620 posts] 3 years ago
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Two questions come to mind

What the hell are we supposed to do once the warning box is fully lit up?

Surely this should be fitted as standard to the front of all motor vehicles with an audible warning such as " Brake brake brake. Oh stuff you, you daft pillock. Go ahead and have an accident. Just don't say I didn't warn you!"

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andrew.couling [5 posts] 3 years ago
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Think I'm with what seems to be the majority.

I don't really get it!

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stevengoodfellow [59 posts] 3 years ago
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So what is the reaction supposed to be to the warning? You'll look behind before making a manouvre (or use a mirror) and then act accordingly, but what do you do when a car is identified speeding behind you? It will need to be used in conjunction with a Teleporter, beam me up Scotty.

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severs1966 [412 posts] 3 years ago
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Unless you are riding in a segregated bicycle path, there will be cars up your arse practically all the time, and there is nothing you can do about it.

You might as well have a sticker on the handlebars with printed text on it stating "there is traffic behind you. It includes several car drivers who want you to just go away somehow".
That would be correct more than 90% of the time.

If you have a radar device such as this and it tells you there is a vehicle behind you, it affords you no advantage over looking over your shoulder, or just paying no heed whatsoever to whatever is behind you. What are you supposed to do when it tells you that there is traffic behind you? Accelerate away from it? Pull in to the gutter and let it squeeze past you with the usual 6mm of space?

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mrmo [2096 posts] 3 years ago
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if you ride on the average road with a stream of traffic, how would you determine if the beep is one to worry about or just another car???

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mrmo [2096 posts] 3 years ago
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Yorkshie Whippet wrote:

Two questions come to mind

What the hell are we supposed to do once the warning box is fully lit up?

Surely this should be fitted as standard to the front of all motor vehicles with an audible warning such as " Brake brake brake. Oh stuff you, you daft pillock. Go ahead and have an accident. Just don't say I didn't warn you!"

Or as a colleague has discovered with his new car, brake, brake, brake, oh f*** it if you aren't I am... as his car refuses to hit the car in front.*

* just waiting for the day when it goes wrong though!

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A V Lowe [618 posts] 3 years ago
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Get any decent flow of passing vehicles and you'll switch the damn thing off - certainly not much use on any busy roads, and in town. forget it.

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themartincox [553 posts] 3 years ago
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The light at the back I can see being useful, the bit at the front I can see being terrifying - constantly going off!

just use as a posh rear light and leave it at that surely?

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vbvb [621 posts] 3 years ago
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A safe alternative to a mirror? To make cycling safer? Come on, road.cc. Mirrors are safe and surely you can find a better way to write about driver danger.

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auldain [9 posts] 3 years ago
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When will someone develop and market a lightweight and indescrete front and rear facing video camera wit a lot battery life an a loop in record in system. Either for fitting to th bike or incorporated into helmets or front and rear lights units. Surely no that complicated or difficult. Make the compulsory and make sure all car van and lorries and make sure they know bikes are carrying them and I predict drivers would instantly become more considerate.

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Joeinpoole [445 posts] 3 years ago
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auldain wrote:

When will someone develop and market a lightweight and indescrete front and rear facing video camera wit a lot battery life an a loop in record in system. Either for fitting to th bike or incorporated into helmets or front and rear lights units. Surely no that complicated or difficult. Make the compulsory and make sure all car van and lorries and make sure they know bikes are carrying them and I predict drivers would instantly become more considerate.

I was thinking the same. A rear-facing camera with a handlebar-mounted display would be far more useful ... if there is any use at all for such a device.

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levermonkey [682 posts] 3 years ago
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Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:

What a stupid invention. Haven't they heard of mirrors?

Mirrors are probably the worst thing you can fit to a cycle. The best indicator to a following road-user that you intend to do something is the look over the shoulder. If you stop doing this because 'you have a mirror' then what indication are they going to get if the road conditions, or your need to keep both hands on the bars, prevent you from giving a hand signal.

Personally I would ban mirrors from pedal cycles [unless a valid reason could be given eg. on a hand cranked cycle] in the interests of safety.

As to the kickstarter. Just what I always wanted -

A countdown to death! With disco lights!

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bikebot [2119 posts] 3 years ago
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auldain wrote:

When will someone develop and market a lightweight and indescrete front and rear facing video camera wit a lot battery life an a loop in record in system. Either for fitting to th bike or incorporated into helmets or front and rear lights units. Surely no that complicated or difficult. Make the compulsory and make sure all car van and lorries and make sure they know bikes are carrying them and I predict drivers would instantly become more considerate.

I keep thinking the same thing, there's an absolute demand for someone to make a half decent quality, discrete bike camera with good battery life to use for safety and evidence if you're unlucky enough to need it.

Given how many people I see with a GoPro on their head, which is both expensive and about as discrete as a head mounted penguin, there's an absolute gap in the market. The mobius camera is the closest I've found in terms of the electronics and price, but it needs three things.
- A small rainproof case as standard, not something to go diving with that makes it huge.
- Double the battery life.
- Better mounts, either copy the GoPro system or something even smaller.

All the pieces to make such a camera are out there, the car dashcam market is overflowing with cheap hardware, someone just needs to produce something for the cyclists.

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bikebot [2119 posts] 3 years ago
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levermonkey wrote:
Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:

What a stupid invention. Haven't they heard of mirrors?

Mirrors are probably the worst thing you can fit to a cycle. The best indicator to a following road-user that you intend to do something is the look over the shoulder. If you stop doing this because 'you have a mirror' then what indication are they going to get if the road conditions, or your need to keep both hands on the bars, prevent you from giving a hand signal.

Personally I would ban mirrors from pedal cycles [unless a valid reason could be given eg. on a hand cranked cycle] in the interests of safety.

As to the kickstarter. Just what I always wanted -

A countdown to death! With disco lights!

I use a mirror for commuting, a tiny little thing on the end of the drops. It doesn't replace the shoulder check at all, if you're riding with traffic it's just another way to be aware of tailgating, without constantly taking your eye off the one in front. Or cars creeping forward at lights when they should be stationary. When you ride at night, peripheral vision will pick up on the headlights moving without even looking at it.

Oh, and then there's recumbents, where mirrors are much more common.

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