Innovations to Make Bicycling Safer and More Efficient


Once again, the students of Engineering Innovation & Design (ENAS 118) have produced a number of innovations while working their clients - the people who encounter these issues regularly and simply want a better way to tackle them. Taught by SEAS senior research scientist Larry Wilen and SEAS Deputy Dean Vince Wilczynski, most of the work took place in the John Klingenstein '50 Design Lab at the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design (CEID), although some students worked remotely from various locations around the globe. Today, we feature two bicycle-related projects. 

Bicyclists: Are you looking for a way to maximize your rides and be safer while doing so? The students of ENAS 118 are on it. Two student teams worked on projects this semester to maximize the efficiency of gear shiftings, and another developed a hands-free way of signaling their turns.

For the gear-shifting project, Anne Lin '24, and Kayla Morgan '24, and Ben Markert '23 worked with Thomas Newman, Yale's director of student-athlete innovation & performance.

Over the semester, they developed a system that features a strain gauge on one of the bike’s pedals, which measures the force put on it.  That data is then sent to a small box that displays the results, which is affixed to the frame of the bike and easy for the rider to read. The display will read either "high" or "low" when the biker is above or below set threshold. The cyclist then sees the data and can decide whether they need more or less force to make their ride more efficient.

At the end of the ride, the display also gives the total elapsed time and shows how much time the rider spent above the set threshold of force. 

For those cyclists who want to signal to others on the road where they want to go without having to lift their hands off the handlebar, a student team devised a vest that receives voice commands to broadcast the cyclist’s intentions. 

Working with John Campbell, physical safety officer with Yale’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), the student team of Nikolay Mitev '24, Sydney Scott '24, and Adam Zapatka '24 developed VACCA (Voice Activated Cyclist Communications Apparatus).

The vest displays the symbols for turning, stopping and forward motion on the cyclist’s back. Typically, such vests work with a hand-operated remote control, which which can diminish the rider's control of the bike. And more commonly, cyclists use their hands as their turning signals, further impacting their ability to steer.

The team used accelerometers and voice recognition technology to create a hands-free device to signal their turns to others on the road. 

The three main components of the system are the technology that receive voice commands (“left” or “right” “forward” and “stop”), an accelerometer that can detect turns and rapid de-accelerations, and a small box affixed to the bike that stores the components.

A cyclist himself who has found manual signaling problematic, Campbell of EHS said the device is a much better approach to signaling turns than what cyclists currently have. 

“This is definitely a huge improvement - I think this is amazing,” he said.