With over 10,000 minds, many often lost in thought (and others merely lost), crisscrossing over its campus, Stanford is a place where dozens of collisions occur each day. The majority of those impacts are of the bike-vs.-fixed-object or other bike variety; the Revolight, however, was born from the collision of bikes and an innovating mind.
A brainchild of Kent Frankovich M.S. ’10, Revolights are LED lighting systems that connect to the bike’s wheels, producing a white light on the front half of the bike and a red light on the back, which allow bikers to see more clearly and increase their visibility. The idea for the lighting system struck Frankovich while he was completing his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford, when he noticed the shortcomings of his traditional, handlebar-mounted light, which pointed ahead but did not offer the rider much visibility from the side.
Although California law requires all cyclists to use a light visible at a distance of 300 feet in front during nighttime, biking in poorly lit conditions remains dangerous — and sometimes fatal. According to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA), 39 percent of fatalities from reported bicycle accidents in 2008 occurred between 5 p.m. and midnight. This statistic hit especially close to home two years ago when visiting Ph.D. student Yichao Wang died in 2010 after being struck by a car at the dark intersection of Palm Drive and Museum Way.
The NCSA report also found that nearly 70 percent of nighttime bicycle collisions were due to inadequate side visibility, a problem that the Revolight team strives to prevent with its new system. The current public prototype features a white front light and red rear light, which mimics the lights on most motorized vehicles.
“The Revolight lighting system serves as a unique identifier for bicycles and their direction,” said Jim Houk, another member of the production team.
The team’s images of the system’s latest prototypes reveal a bike outfitted to look like a cousin of Tron’s Lightcycle. Each wheel’s lighting system consists of 12 LED lights connected to a wire, which is then attached to the wheel using six clips. The lights are powered by polymer lithium-ion batteries, which last for about four hours and recharge using a USB, Houk said.
Since debuting their project on Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website, early last summer, the team has raised nearly five times its initial goal of $43,500 in startup capital, thanks to a pool of over 1,400 backers. Today, Frankovich builds the circuits for the Revolight in his own apartment.
Frankovich credited Stanford with nurturing his inborn love of tinkering.
“When I was younger, I would go to a hardware store to buy things I could cut up and drill to make into go-cart parts,” Frankovich said. “I always had the motivation to design, but Stanford gave me the skills I really wanted to make them better.”
Currently, the production team is working on its sixth prototype. In the latest version, Frankovich added an accelerometer to make the back wheel a solid arc even when the biker stops. This has been implemented in an effort to reduce criticism that the Revolight might be distracting to other drivers.
“People are always going to provide feedback on potential negative features, and as innovators we welcome and test those concerns,” Houk said. However, he emphasized that “the concept of the Revolight is not distracting, and its safety features far outweigh any such concerns.”
In future prototypes, Kent and the rest of the production team will try to make the Revolight adaptable to more rim sizes. Members of the team also want to make the Revolight resilient to adverse weather conditions.
The initial production batch will be directed toward the initial group of investors who saw the potential in the design, Houk said. The first batch of production, set on March 2012, is expected to yield 900 Revolight lighting systems.
However, because the production team does not want to rely solely on its Kickstarter funds to design prototypes, it is looking for more ways to raise capital.
“We have gotten feedback from many future applications including motorcycles, wheelchairs and scooters,” Frankovich said when asked about tapping into new markets.
“We would love to get into other versions of the Revolight, but we try not to overstate our objection and remain as transparent to consumers as possible,” Houk said about the product’s future.