See.Sense: the intelligent bike light

New bike light uses smartphone sensor technology to adjust road and light conditions

Being seen is an essential part of winter riding and commuting. Buying bike lights can often be difficult, with such a wide range of options available. Now, one company has come up with an intelligent bike light that adapts to a range of road and light conditions.

The See.Sense bike light, which uses in-built sensors to react to different conditions, is one of the most intelligent pieces of cycling kit to have emerged in the last year. But while it has the potential to improve the life of every cyclist, for inventor and company boss Philip McAleese, it’s changed his life on a very personal level, too.

“I was a cycle commuter for a couple of years in Singapore,” McAleese told CW. “Over there they have a concept called kiasu, which is the idea of wanting to come first. It’s hard to describe — it’s not that Singaporeans are aggressive drivers, but they’re very assertive. If there’s a millimetre of space, somebody will dive into it. They think nothing of passing a cyclist and then immediately turning left into their path. That’s quite acceptable as they consider they have road position, because they’re there before you. So, after being hospitalised following one collision on my bike, I felt I needed something to give me a little more road presence.”

The See.Sense light uses two sensors — an accelerometer and a light sensor — so it has the ability to recognise a huge number of road scenarios, such as the headlights of an approaching car, or if a cyclist is riding onto a roundabout or arriving at a road junction. The light then reacts by flashing brighter and faster, making the rider more visible at these crucial moments.

McAleese’s had originally thought about about ever brighter, mountain bike-style lights to gain more road presence, but their bulk and wires quickly became inconvenient.

“I had an epiphany one day as I was cycling along, looking at my smartphone on the handlebars. I thought: what if we could take the sensors from the smartphone and integrate them into a bicycle light to give it situational awareness?” McAleese said.

See.Sense back light

See.Sense back light

“Fortunately I have a background in electronic and software engineering. It started off as a personal quest to make something that was more convenient for me as a commuter — I didn’t set out with the intention of creating a product and bringing it to the masses. But the more I spoke to other cyclists, the more I realised they shared the problem and were looking for the same solution.

“My wife Irene and I have always talked about setting up our own business and getting away from the corporate world. We have two young daughters, so partly for family reasons we decided to give up our corporate careers, come back to Northern Ireland, and see if we could make See.Sense work.”

“The research I was doing at university, which was cutting edge in the mid-90s, is now very much mainstream,” McAleese said. “That generation of technology has now been miniaturised, made cheaper and made easier to access. So I got a huge buzz from making this and seeing the sort of capabilities that can now be engineered into the light, and the benefit they can bring to cyclists.

“We tested the lights with our local cycling club, North Down Cycling Club here in Northern Ireland. I thought we’d have trouble rounding up testers, but when we told them what we were doing, we were inundated with people who wanted to try the technology and speak to us.”

See.Sense lights

See.Sense lights

The result has been a very positive first year. “It’s been quite incredible. We only had a prototype around this time last year. But we had a successful launch on Kickstarter last October, and there are now more than 4,000 See.Sense units on bikes around the world,” McAleese said.

“As part of a start-up business, I work incredible hours, but I get a huge amount of satisfaction from riders who tell me See.Sense helps them feel safer on the road.”