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Pedal-Powered LEDs Light Up Bike Wheels

PITTSBURGH, Pa., Aug. 10, 2011 — A safety system for bicycle wheels that is illuminated by LEDs and powered by pedaling is the brainchild of two undergraduate industrial design students who wanted to make night riding more secure.

(Image: Core77 Design Awards Website)

Jonathan Ota and Ethan Frier, both avid bikers, hatched the idea last year while sophomores at Carnegie Mellon University.

"We noticed that current products illuminate bikers from the front and rear, but do little from the side," Ota said. "They also do little to differentiate bikers from the environment, especially in the city, with so much visual confusion."

Thus was born Project Aura — a system of tri-color LEDs attached to the bike wheels, powered by pedaling. Move faster, and the lights change from red to white, giving a clear sense of speed and motion.

"We wanted to make a cool product that people will want to use, and in the process of using it, will make them safer," Ota said.

To pursue their idea, the designers were awarded a Student Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG) — small grants funded by contributions to CMU supporting undergrad research.

"The SURG made our project possible," Frier noted. "In design, you are always coming up with fantastic ideas, but as students, we are often limited financially to fully pursue them. The SURG allowed us to explore our idea to the fullest extent."

The students thought their final video would spell completion of the project, but 110,000 page views later, they thought again. Now, after winning the student category for transportation design in the Core77 Design Awards, they're looking to commercialize. 

The budding entrepreneurs are currently in the process of filing a patent and analyzing their options, including licensing vs. manufacturing. They're also seeking funding.

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Thanks for your comment, Martin. I agree that the idea may not be new, but it was the design that was the real story. It was a design contest after all! It will be interesting to see if they attract commercial partners, which would be another indication that they are on to something.
9/12/2011 1:33:54 PM

Not to rain on anyones parade here, but the idea to attach LEDs to the wheels of a bike isn't really all that novel. In fact you can by such fixtures on Amazon and the idea to use a dynamo to power a bikes lighting has been around for decades and has also been used for LED lights in the past. So I guess the only really new thing of the device presented here is the design which admittedly looks very cool ;)
8/16/2011 1:57:40 AM

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