Senior pursues wearable tech startup to help bike riders

October 30, 2018 — by Howard Tang

While spending time in big cities like San Francisco, senior Rohan Pandey noticed a problem: Some bike riders, especially those new to the area, had difficulty checking directions and figuring out where they should go.

“There are around 37,000 bikers [in San Francisco], and every time I go there, I see different kinds of people who would pull onto the side of the road, take out their phone and check Google Maps,” Pandey said. “That’s a big problem.”

From this inspiration, Pandey began engineering a safer method of navigation. His solution: pairs of screenless navigation armbands for bikers, using haptic (vibration) feedback to communicate with the user and provide directional assistance.

He calls the product Pulse and will soon begin a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project at pulse.bike.

The bands vibrate according to directions. A vibration on the left wrist indicates a left turn and a vibration on the right wrist indicates a right turn, while a vibration on both wrists indicates a U-turn. As a rider approaches a waypoint, the vibrations increase in frequency. Upon arrival at the waypoint, the vibrations become continuous.

Pandey started this project at Leangap, a startup incubator he attended during the summer. There he began to work with a team of seven people. Although most of the members have since dropped out of the project, Pandey and senior Ryan Wang from Los Angeles are still pioneering their product.

A poll of 300 bike commuters conducted by the team showed that 85 percent of the bikers used a GPS of some form, and of those, 82 percent thought it was a hazard. Half of them had to pull over at some point and check their map and the other half checks their map while they are riding, essentially endangering themselves.

Although people who commute to work or just get around by bike usually know their normal path, the times when Pulse is needed the most occur when they need to go somewhere new, such as a friend’s place or a new meeting location. Another significant benefit of Pulse is that bikers can take advantage of Google Maps’s dynamic directions that change with the constant fluctuations in traffic.

“You might know what the main path to work is, but you don’t know what the fastest path is at each exact moment because you haven’t checked Google Maps for a while,” Pandey said.

The team has gone through several stages of developing and testing. At first, they were just using Bluetooth instructions to turn on and off an LED light. They then began to build vibrational motors in a box. Eventually, they created two separate wristbands that communicate over Bluetooth where the vibrations were completely in-sync with where the rider is and in relation to the next turn.

“We sat around in a car and drove around for an entire day just practicing with the bands, and we wrote code in the car to make adjustments and keep the bands working,” Pandey said.

The team had to adapt the bands to be able to navigate the intricate roadmaps of San Francisco, including the countless roundabouts. The team fetches directions from the Google directions API and implements them in their code.

Although the Kickstarter fundraiser was planned to debut on Oct. 26, the date has been pushed back due to technical difficulties in the making of their video trailer.

Pandey and his team are aiming to raise an initial $55,000 which will primarily go toward the manufacturing process, as well as further testing of the device and the addition of features. They have a fully functional prototype and a fully functional application.

“The main thing we’re working towards right now is Kickstarter,” Pandey said. “We’ve talked to some manufacturers, but we’re moving that off until we raise enough money on Kickstarter to see which manufacturers to pick and how much bandwidth we have for testing.”

He sees Pulse as promising product and feels much more optimistic about it than about previous projects he has worked on. He is working on a provisional patent paperwork, although it is not his priority at the moment.

“We've talked to a lot of potential customers and we're doing our best to make it a reality,” Pandey said.

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