When vehicles and bicycles mix, a lack of driver awareness or a moment of inattention can have deadly consequences. To tackle this problem, Smartcharge has received a €25,000 grant to develop smart signage that promotes bicycle safety, and will be partnering with VT to connect the signs to the cloud.

Five cyclists have been killed on Irish roads in 2017 as of the end of March. According to the most recent cyclist injury statistics from the Road Safety Authority, 630 cyclists were injured in 2012, with 83 per cent of those incidents involving motor vehicles.

To help address cycling issues, Dublin City Council and Enterprise Ireland are providing grants as part of the Smart Dublin Small Business Innovation and Research initiative. In September 2016, Smartcharge was one of five companies chosen out of 96 that were interested in the initiative, which aimed to promote cycling, gather data and prevent bicycle theft. The Smartcharge team, led by CTO Mick Berry and physicist Dr. James Fryar, received €11,000 in phase one of the competition. Four of the five companies, including Smartcharge, were advanced to phase two in March, for which they received €25,000.

Now, as part of phase two, Smartcharge will use the €25,000 grant to create smart signs that light up in the presence of cyclists, warning drivers to use caution. The signs, powered by solar and battery, will detect special tags carried by the cyclists. Smartcharge is also partnering with VT to integrate low-power, low-cost Sigfox connectivity into the signs. Sigfox is a low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) technology that specialises in connecting simple internet of things (IoT) solutions to the cloud. There are Sigfox networks in 31 countries, and VT operates the nationwide network in Ireland.

Integrating Sigfox will allow the city to monitor the status of every sign to ensure they are properly maintained. Very little power is needed for devices to send messages over the Sigfox network — up to 300 times less than traditional cellular options. This is critical for the solar and battery powered signs, according to Mick Berry, CTO of Smartcharge.

“Sigfox solves all the key issues for this project. We need national coverage, extremely low power consumption and only intermittent communications,” he said. “This is the ideal connectivity option for our autonomous smart signs.”

Berry is planning to use Sigfox to allow the signs to report their status, including battery levels and any operational problems. This allows them to be properly maintained without long gaps between in-person inspections. Berry also envisions future uses for the built-in connectivity, including collecting data about the number of cyclists using certain routes, and using the signs as a warning system in major emergencies. And, with a range of 1km, the signs could be used to indicate more than just cyclists in the area. Vulnerable groups such as school children or older people could also be outfitted with tags in the future.

“We are excited to see Smartcharge progress onto phase two of this project and look forward to helping them bring their solution to life,” said Will Ferguson, co-founder and COO of VT. “Smartcharge has a history of innovation, so it’s great to see them using their skills to tackle this complicated safety issue.”

Smartcharge’s core business is manufacturing and supplying electric vehicle charging stations. However, they often use their engineering skills to branch out into experimental technology, and regularly win grants for their work. For more on Smartcharge’s business, visit www.smartcharge.ie.

Berry hopes to begin trials of the warning signs within the next eight weeks. Once completed, the system could also be used in other cities with more cyclists. BikeLook, Fluidedge and See.Sense also received €25,000 each as part of the cycling challenge.

For more information about the initiative, visit http://www.dublincity.ie/getting-smarter-cycling-capital.

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