Never have I received an email about a new cycling product launching on Kickstarter, dropped everything and read the entire Kickstarter product page – then started a 2-day email Q&A with the company CEO. Until last week. That's exactly what I did on news of the launch of Ilumaware's new Shield TL.
The Shield TL is a reflector/tail light that uses a car's collision avoidance system (CAS) radar to, in effect, gather and amplify the signal that bounces back to the car – making the bike and rider "bigger" and more easily detected at a greater distance. It is made of metallic material, molded plastic and silicon, weighs approximately 55g and is 1.5 x 3 x 4.5 inches.
"OTR Technology [which stands for "on the radar"] is a passive radar reflector. The shape and construction of the technology has been specifically engineered to enhance the reflected radar signal transmitted from the vehicle back to a car. In short, we reverse-engineered stealth technology," says Geoff Godsey, CEO of iLumaware LLC.
How it Works
The key to understanding how this works is understanding at a cursory level how radar works. Radar waves are transmitted and then "bounce off" or reflect from an object and return to the source. The time it takes for the signal to return is used to measure the distance to the object and plot its position. Reflection is measured in radar cross section (RCS) values. RCS values are affected by the size, shape, material and angles of objects. Large, fairly flat, metallic objects (like vehicles) have very high RCS values. Smaller, less dense, organically shaped objects (like a person riding a bicycle or running) have much lower RCS values. (See chart.)
The Shield TL, in field testing, boosted a cyclist's RCS value to a level (+5.2dB RCS) that makes the cyclist visible to a driver with a CAS system at nearly 200 meters. Without the device, that same cyclist (-2dB RCS) is visible at less than 70 meters. The upshot is: The driver can be warned of the cyclist in plenty of time to avoid the cyclist – and cars that have the ability to "take over" and make adjustments on their own can do likewise.
Highlights from Ilumaware's field testing of the Shield TL:
- Avg. (RCS) Value of a cyclist using OTR Technology = +5.2dB
- Avg. Range of Visibility of a cyclist using OTR Technology = 198 meters
- Avg. (RCS) Value of a cyclist w/out a device = -2dB
- Avg. Range of Visibility of a cyclist w/out a device = 66 meters
"What our objective is at iLumaware is to prevent collisions from happening," says Godsey. "We are developing technologies that increase the communication between cars and riders (even at some level mitigating the need to rely on drivers) so we can reduce and/or even eliminate the number of “close calls” or collisions on the road because cars see us, track our position and ultimately recognize us as significant objects a car wants to avoid."
How Many Cars Have CAS Tech?
This technology is quickly becoming a de facto standard, and federal regulation will only serve to speed up the already rapidly increasing percentage of CAS-equipped autos.
Approximately 83% of 2016 model cars sold in the U.S. are equipped with collision avoidance system (CAS) technology. That's up from about 60% market saturation only three years ago, according to Ilumaware. The technology is quickly trickling down from luxury models into economy cars, much the same as navigation systems and touch-screen technology have in recent years.
Moreover, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced plans to change requirements for cars to achieve the coveted 5-Star Safety Rating. In the near future, a car will have to come standard with specific CAS technologies to receive a 5-star rating.
It's Not a Panacea
Of course, this is a forward-looking technology. Even as more and more CAS-equipped cars take to the road, for years to come there will remain millions of older model cars without CAS on the road. And, to be clear, the Shield TL's founders and execs – all cyclists – are proponents of using a variety of safety devices while cycling. Which is, in part, why they incorporated a tail light into the device. The 80-lumen tail light is micro USB-rechargable, with a 25-hour run time on high mode, and 76 hours on flash.
As for mounting the device, they've also given some thought to the various approaches cyclists take in mounting their traditional tail lights.
"We have designed a seat post mount [with variations for aero posts, etc.] because we do want the product to sit as flush and level as possible for optimum performance," says Godsey. "The Shield TL will include a 'clip-on' system so that a rider could easily mount to a seatbag like many do with their tail lights now. However, the Shield TL is compact enough that it should easily mount to a seatpost underneath a saddle bag on the bike. The only consideration at that point would be not to allow the saddle back to lay over or cover the device, no different than what you do with a current tail light."
What excites me about this approach to cycling safety is that it does, as Godsey says, "communicate" with drivers (and cars) in a way that nothing else does. I am a proponent of cyclists doing everything they can to stay as safe as possible on the road: running full-time flashers front and rear, avoiding dark monotone clothing, running camera lights, etc.
A problem we've pointed out recently is The Danger of Distracted Riding. In some cases, even technology meant to warn you about, and protect you from, approaching vehicles can in some cases actually distract you from paying attention to the road and the various other hazards you face. The Shield TL requires none of your attention, yet it actively works on your behalf to make you more visible to drivers and the cars they're "piloting" – and works to warn them – even if they're not necessarily paying attention.
That's a leap forward. No bright flashing light, neon jersey or reflective material has the power to get inside a driver's car and beep, buzz, shake or otherwise warn them to your presence.
For more information on Ilumaware's Shield TL, visit the company's Kickstarter page. Supporting the project can save you up to $50 off the $89 MSRP of a Shield TL. If the project reaches its $70,000 funding goal, the first production units are expected to ship next April.
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of "less than podium" talent, he sees himself as RBR's Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR's great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That's what we're all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John's full bio.