Keeping an eye on safer, more sustainable cycling

Onsee bike camera REBO and handlebar button to highlight sections of footage
Onsee bike camera REBO and handlebar button to highlight sections of footage

Onsee have developed a clever cycle camera that helps riders feel more secure and provides data to enable safer road design. Undaunted’s reporter, Franca Davenport, explores how this technology will bring more cyclists to our roads. Part of Undaunted’s Climate Innovations Up-Close blog series.

Transport is a major climate concern with road transport alone making up a quarter of Europe’s emissions, and traffic congestion contributing to health problems globally. In London it is estimated that nearly two thirds of car journeys could be switched to bikes but, despite the incentives, safety remains an over-riding barrier.

On average, a UK cycle commuter experiences 450 near misses each year, and when the Founder of Onsee, Crispian Poon, came to London to start his MBA at Imperial College London, he experienced concerns about safe cycling first-hand. So much so that he made it the focus of his first project after graduating from the MBA research. “To gain insight into the problem we spoke to over 200 cyclists,” says Poon. “ I went undercover at cycling lessons, rode at cycle protests, interviewed cycle camera “vigilantes” and, over and over again, we found that people were using a camera as a solution so they could submit videos to authorities.”

Developing the REBO

Building on these findings, the Onsee team decided to develop a bicycle camera called REBO to help people feel safer as they cycle. Initially their idea was based on the simple psychological concept that placing an object resembling an eye on a bicycle would make it more human to other road-users which, in turn, would result in a shift towards safer behaviour.  The approach influenced the initial design of the camera but, as the team continued to develop the idea, they realised there was a data gap in road safety that their technology could also address.

Images in slideshow above: Onsee bike camera REBO positioned below saddle; Onsee’s bike camera REBO; Onsee’s handlebar button that allows riders to mark sections in their journey; Data collected from Onsee’s REBO camera

Everyday bicycle cameras provide numerous individual records of incidents but there is no mechanism by which they could become a collective voice or vision to communicate to the people working in road safety. The Onsee team realised that if they designed REBO to capture more meaningful data and deliver it in a way that could be combined with information from other cyclists it could identify problematic areas as well as evaluate road safety interventions. “There just wasn’t intelligent information on why and where people were having these near misses,” says Poon. “We realised that if we developed a product that could help cyclists collectively show the relevant authorities where they don’t feel safe then we could fill that data gap.”

All seeing eye

The Onsee camera constantly records every journey and selectively saves the more scary moments. It does this through smart sensors that can identify unusual movements and actions, such as swerving or sudden braking, but it also has a wireless handlebar button that allows the rider to highlight a section of the recording where they feel unsafe. “These near misses are not always when cyclists take evasive action,” comments Poon. “For example, there may be a cycle lane which is very confusing and forces the rider to be distracted or take the wrong turn.  In this case, the cyclist can click the record button and capture that moment.” The information then goes to an app so the cyclist can view their videos and input information about those events such as describing what made them feel unsafe.

Taking this one step further the Onsee team are exploring ways to amalgamate information captured by their cameras. “There will be a lot of data!” says Poon. “So we need to condense it and provide a summary of where the problems are, why they are happening and how to fix them.”  Currently the team are working with safety experts and developing  AI algorithms to extract complicated, nuanced context about the events recorded during real world trials in Oxfordshire. This will enable them to build ‘near miss’ maps and the tools that can ask the relevant questions from the data.

“As a climate start-up, you have to constantly think about how to balance your profit with your social and environmental impacts. For us, the perspective from mentors on the Imperial Climate Accelerator helped us achieve all three.”

Crispian Poon, Founder and CEO, Onsee

Growing the customer base and the database

Since the idea behind Onsee was first conceptualised, the team has gained plenty of interest and support. Early on they were supported by the Imperial Climate Accelerator in 2019 and took part in the Venture Catalyst Challenge in 2020. This provided them with essential links to government bodies and funders. “For a start-up some of the doors that you need to open to make connections are very big and heavy,” says Poon. “And having the weight of someone like the Imperial Climate accelerator behind those doors is really helpful.”

Cyclist with Onsee’s technology on bike

The team still consider the biggest milestone in their journey to be the moment when they delivered their first REBOs as part of a pilot project in Oxford in 2019. The project was funded through the Department for Transport’s Transport-Technology Research Innovation Grants (T-TRIG) and enabled them to develop and deliver the hardware for testing. “It was so satisfying to hand out our first cameras,” recalls Poon. “And see them mounted on the cycles and collecting data. Initially we were anxious but when we could see them in action it was fantastic.”

Onsee received further support through the Innovate UK and Geospatial Commission funded SBRI Competition which allowed them to further develop the data capture and identify valuable indicators. In 2020 and 2021 they ran further pilots in Jersey and in 2023 they are back testing in Oxford again with a HORIZON 2022 project called SOTERIA where they will create a living lab and send out cameras to hundreds of users. As part of this they will be partnering with AI experts and academic partners to analyse the data to investigate the impact of the  REBOs on safety perceptions and to evaluate new infrastructure or areas of interventions for cycling safety. “If we want to propagate our learning as widely as possible,” comments Poon, “We need as much diversity in our dataset so that the algorithms and methodology are robust enough to apply to other places.”

With the insight gained from these ongoing projects Onsee are aiming to expand the capability of their sensors and data by working with more local authorities. They want to facilitate the conversation about cycling safety and have launched a Kickstarter campaign to sell the REBOs directly to the public so they can collect more data but also raise awareness around the issue. “This isn’t about pointing a finger of blame at different road users,” says Poon. “But about starting a conversation with everyone, and providing the data and insights for this conversation to lead to change.” 

Climate Solutions Up-Close

Take a deeper-dive into innovative climate technology by exploring other posts in Undaunted’s Climate Solutions Up-Close blog series.

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