Ahead of the debut of the London Bike Show's Innovation Lab, held in association with BikeBiz, we speak with the companies showcasing their innovative wares. This time it is the turn of bicycle smart light See.Sense. The See.Sense team and founder Philip McAleese answer the questions...
Can you explain your product, why it is different and innovative?
See.Sense is daylight-visible bicycle light, designed to increase cyclist visibility. Its intelligence means that it ‘knows’ when to flash faster and brighter to make the cyclist more visible, and it also means it can provide a very bright, daylight visible light with a long run time of more than 12 hours.
MAIN PIC CREDIT:Steve Behr/Stockfile
It is the first bike light to use advanced, patent-pending sensor technology to monitor the cyclist, their bicycle and their environment, to enable situational awareness and intelligence.
See.Sense can detect scenarios where a cyclist may be at a higher risk. For example, See.Sense can detect when a cyclist is at a road junction, filtering in urban traffic, on a roundabout, travelling in low light, such as under an overpass or in a road tunnel or approached by a car with headlights on.
When a cyclist encounters such a situation, See.Sense will increase its brightness and flash rate to make the cyclist more visible to other road users.
Light performance is usually a trade-off between high brightness, long runtime and compactness. Choose any two at the expense of the third. See.Sense. breaks this rule by using its power intelligently, enabling it to be bright when needed yet still have a long runtime in a small package.
To achieve these features, See.Sense utilises cutting edge sensor technology, covered in a fourteen-page patent application that is currently pending.
How did you come up with the idea?
The See.Sense intelligent light was designed in response to a problem See.Sense founder Philip McAleese faced daily as a cycle commuter. He was living in Singapore at the time with his wife and family, working as a Director for a large multinational investment bank.
Philip McAleese: Over there, they have the 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.
Philip became quite frustrated at how invisible cyclists can be to motorists, and having previously been hospitalised following one collision on his bike, started to seriously research what he could do. Looking into the stats he discovered that nearly 80% of accidents involving cyclists actually occur in urban areas, in daylight, at road junctions and roundabouts. He realised that most cycle lights are simply not bright to be seen at these times, and the ones that are have a very poor battery life, or require a heavy external battery pack that is not suitable for the regular commuter. He knew he needed something to give him road presence during the commuting peak times of dawn and dusk, when most bike lights are not effective.
The inspiration to create See.Sense happened during a commute home.
Philip McAleese: “I was looking at the smartphone I had on the handle bars. There was a lot of sensor technology on that device and I wondered could we use some of that to develop a light that’s bright when it needs to be and conserves energy when it doesn’t. It was really from there that I looked at the sensor technology that was in smartphones and integrated it into See.Sense to create the first intelligent bike light."
Philip was able to draw on his background in electronic and software engineering to come up with his idea. Prior to working banking, Philip had graduated from the Queen’s University of Belfast with a Bachelor of Engineering (Electronic and Software Engineering). Following University, Philip had spent two years designing air traffic control simulators for National Air Traffic Services (the UK equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration).
What started off as a personal quest to make something that was more convenient for him as a commuter, started to grow. Although he didn’t intent to create a product and bring it to the masses, the more he spoke to other cyclists, the more he realised that they shared the same problem and were looking for the same solution.
How hard was it to get started? Did you use crowd funding like Kickstarter, etc? If you did, how did that go?
Having thoroughly researched his idea and working closely with cyclists, Philip and his wife Irene believed they had a potentially successful idea. They decided to leave their corporate jobs and return to Northern Ireland from Singapore to focus on the development of the business and it was in Northern Ireland that See.Sense was born.
Philip and Irene worked with hundreds of cyclists around the world and tested several prototypes with their local cycling club, North Down CC. They also worked with Queens University Belfast as well as the University of Ulster on the casing design and testing of the light, before launching on the crowd-funding website, Kickstarter, in October 2013.
See.Sense launched on Kickstarter in October 2013, and reached its funding goal in only 8 days. It went on to raise over £33,800 in total, with over 850 lights pre-ordered. More than 500 cyclists backed See.Sense on Kickstarter.
See.Sense was featured in a media worldwide including The New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian. It was also featured on The Cycle Show.
Can you pick out any key milestones in the development of your product/company?
See.Sense successfully delivered the Kickstarter orders and pre-orders in April and went straight from Kickstarter to being stocked with Chain Reaction Cycles, the world’s largest online cycling retailer.
In May, the Giro d’Italia came to Northern Ireland and the company made the most of it by creating a special edition pink light, and a beautifully filmed video of cyclists on the Giro route with See.Sense lights, that was shared around the world. See.Sense is currently shortlisted by The Guardian for PR and Marketing Excellence in the Small Business Showcase Awards and won a Directors’ Award for the Chartered Institute of Marketing (Ireland) for our work on the Giro campaign.
See.Sense is now stocked by local shops, national and international retailers, and we have sold thousands of lights to customers, selling into more than 45 countries around the world.
Our patent pending smart sensor technology, has enabled us to win a number of national and international awards. Recently, we took the Electronics category win at INVENT2014 . Our Co-Founder, Irene McAleese won the NI Women in Business Award for Best New Startup (Knowledge Economy).
See.Sense launched a version 2.0 in October 2014 based on early adopter feedback that included new features like auto on/off and a longer battery standby life.
Cyclists tell us over and over again that when they use See.Sense, cars give them more space. In a recent survey we conducted on our Kickstarter backers, we found a 96% overall satisfaction rate, 99% were satisfied to extremely satisfied with the brightness of our lights, 99% felt that See.Sense improved their visibility to cars and 97% satisfied with the way the lights reacted.
What are you hoping for from exhibiting at the Innovation Lab? More exposure? New trade partnerships?
The London Bike Show will be our first time we are exhibiting at a cycling show. As a new company that is all about innovation, we couldn't think of a better way to begin this journey than being featured in the Innovation Lab!
Our goals for the event are to build brand awareness with both customers and the cycling trade. We are also looking forward to meeting some our loyal customers in person.
As a way to demonstrate how our bike light has really entered the 'digital cycling age', and also to thank our existing customers for their support - we will be offering existing customers of 1.0 version the ability to get their light ‘upgraded’ to a 2.0 with exciting new features such as auto on/off. We believe that it is a first for the cycling lighting industry to have a light that is upgradeable. We have already carried out upgrades to kickstarter and pre-order backers. Now we are making it available to all our customers.
Any final thoughts?
We've cracked sensor technology for use in cycling technology and have an exciting product roadmap based on our innovative use of sensor technology. We can't say too much about it yet, but we plan to release a new product later this year and there is an third product in the wings too! We aim to be the leading cycling brand for the digital cycling age.
Another point we'd love to mention is our committment to the environment. Cycling is kind to the planet. We think businesses should be too. We have sought to reduce our environmental impact by using recyclable packaging (no plastics, no foam, and compact), manufacturing in the UK (Northern Ireland), making our batteries fully replaceable, making many of our components fully replaceable and making it possible to upgrade your light to the next version without having to purchase new kit. And by planting trees with WeForest with our ‘Buy Two Get One Tree’ initiative: for every set of See.Sense lights purchased, we plant a tree with WeForest, the tree-planting charity. We have already planted over 1000 trees in Madagasgar!