Students from Edinburgh University have used Google Glass to assess people’s stress levels while cycling. They hope their research will help identify ways to increase confidence among nervous riders, as well as in people who are too afraid to get on a bike, and are developing a smartphone app based on their findings.
Some 15 cyclists living or working in the suburb of Inverleith, ranging from people who hardly ever get on a bike to experienced riders, were recruited to take part in the study, called ‘Brains on Bikes.’
Kim Taylor, one of the four students involved in the project, told road.cc: “We had them cycle a short 15 minute route in Inverleith which ranged in 'difficulty' from paths in the park to a busy roundabout. While they cycled they were asked to talk about their thoughts and feelings relevant to their cycling and environment.
“We used an EEG headset to measure their stress levels via electrical activity from their brain. We also used Google Glass to video record what they saw and said while riding.
“It's important to note that they had no interaction or requirement to look at the display screen of the Google Glass while riding as this could have affected their cycling – it was simply being used to record their journey.
“We also made use of a GPS tracker to match the readings to their location. Of course the safety of our participants was of utmost importance and we ensured they only cycled if they felt comfortable and safe while wearing the equipment, and we offered safety equipment such as a high visibility vest and a helmet that fitted over the headset.”
We asked Taylor how she and her fellow students, Zimei Du, Renzo Pedreschi and Michal Wasilewski, enrolled on Edinburgh University’s innovative, cross-disciplinary Design Informatics master’s programme, had hit upon this specific line of research.
“We were given the challenge of increasing cycling in the Inverleith area by the Inverleith Neighbourhood Partnership, run by City of Edinburgh Council,” she explained.
“On conducting some preliminary research over a weekend we found that most people in the area didn't cycle because they felt unsafe on the road or they weren't confident enough of their cycling ability. Two of our team members also found cycling in the area quite stressful.
“Therefore we decided tackling this problem of feeling unsafe on the road could encourage more people to cycle. Finding out how people actually feel while cycling as well as what might be causing feelings of stress was the first step in overcoming the issue.”
She said that the team hopes “to collect empirical data on people's stress levels while cycling as well as identify possible stress factors,” and that they are looking to identify specific dangers, as well as learning how people react to being on a bike in an urban environment.
“We are still analysing the results but on first look there does appear to be an increase in stress levels from the park to the road, to the roundabout,” Taylor continued. “We are also comparing the stress levels of the more experienced cyclists and the less experienced.”
The next phase of the project involves the design of a mobile phone app that will warn cyclists of road dangers. We asked Taylor how it would work and how cyclists would use it.
“We are still in the early design phase of the prototype and so can't say exactly how it will work. We are running a participatory design workshop towards the end of November with our participants to look at the data collected, gather feedback and develop the idea together.
“However we think that location sensitive safety advice could prove useful in increasing safety and confidence for newer cyclists or those new to the area. So for example, the app could warn of a poor quality road surface, or a particularly tricky junction, or even suggest alternative routes.
“It will most likely be delivered through a one-ear earpiece, so that the cyclist can still hear what's going on around them. It's also important to note that while we used Google Glass in the study, the app would be for a smartphone in order to reach wider audiences.”
The project is supported by the Edinburgh Living Lab as well as the Inverleith Neighbourhood Partnership, whose convener, Councillor Nigel Bagshaw, told the Edinburgh Evening News that some roads presented “an obstacle course” for bike riders.
“It is a concern for residents, particularly vulnerable road users and families,” he said.
“I think there is a real need to improve the lot of pedestrians and cyclists in the city. Things are improving slowly.
“If you are a confident cyclist then you are fine but we need to make sure everyone feels like they can cycle in the city without problems.”
Ian Maxwell from the Lothian cycling campaign group Spokes believes the research could help get people who are nervous about cycling to take to two wheels.
He said: “The problem we have in Edinburgh, as with everywhere else, is getting more people cycling who wouldn’t normally – as the more people do it, the better it will be for everyone.
“It won’t be the first time people have been asked their views but this actually illustrates what they are feeling.”
Anyone who would like further information about the study is invited to contact Kim Taylor via kimritaylor [at] gmail.com (email).
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.