Our cities are incredible ecosystems with complex activities and exchanges between millions of very diverse people. Although we may have different jobs and lives, the majority of us have one thing in common - the grind of the daily commute.
Around 107 hours a year are spent in this transient space. For many in a city like London, these hours are spent in the confines of tiny underground/overground cabins, fighting for personal space and fresh air, avoiding eye contact and willing the time to pass behind newspapers and electronic screens, trying to keep it together when yet another traffic light turns amber or the PA system announces delays due to “leaves on the line”. The frustration with Southern Rail has even led some commuters to dress as devils to protest against “the commuter hell” of numerous service cancellations! Others have the luxury of individual vehicles, yet still get stuck in endless queues, repetitively nudging forward and braking, shuffling from one lane to the next. Every day vast crowds of people travel to and from work in unison, blocking the city’s limited transportation arteries.
How we travel in the city can have a big impact on society. If from the early morning you’ve got your elbows out to squeeze onto the tube or switch to a faster-moving lane, then you’re likely to have a similar mindset for the rest of your day. And it’s not for just a handful of individuals, but for millions across the world.
What would happen if this part of the day was slightly less stressful - how would this improve our lives?
A few years ago I made the decision to break out of the typical commuting routine - by cycling. Now, this is the favourite part of my day. I have full control over which routes I take and when I leave. I’m hyperaware of my surroundings rather than trying to block them out, which puts my mind in the right mode for a productive work day. I also get my best ideas on my commute - there’s something about the rhythmical pedalling that engages the creative part of my brain!
That’s not to say that cycling around a place like London is always stress-free. There have been numerous times when I got lost, was yelled at by drivers and felt unwelcome on the roads. Since I began cycling the behaviour of other road users has definitely improved as there are more cyclists, improved infrastructure and better education about cycling. Getting lost, however, was something that still troubled me quite a bit. So, I developed Blubel - sat nav in a bicycle bell.
Created for cyclists of all levels, it indicates both turn-by-turn navigation and the direction of the final destination, so you never lose your bearings. The simple LED interface means you know exactly where to go on your bike, without having to stop and check your phone or attempting to find street signs - it literally points you in the right direction.
Blubel also learns from the journeys of the cycling community. Every time you brake suddenly or ring your Blubel (just like a normal bicycle bell), this information is analysed to find even safer routes for Blubel users. You know that liberating feeling, when you’re cycling behind a friend who knows the way? That was my inspiration for Blubel’s unique social navigation engine - it's like having a local expert guide you! I now have more confidence on my bike since I know it will direct me on the quietest most cycle-friendly routes. I also feel much safer knowing that I only have to look down to figure out the next turn, and the rest of the time I just enjoy the ride.
The cycling community is incredibly collaborative: there are numerous forums, charities and grassroots organisations that are aimed at sharing tips and encouraging cycling. It’s widely recognised that the more people cycle, the safer it becomes: there’s real power in numbers. We wanted Blubel to fuel that further, tapping into the knowledge of the cycling community for better routes to be shared in an easy way. This data will also be made available to local authorities and city planners to improve cycling infrastructure, thus empowering the cycling community.
Our mission has always been to create something that would make cycling that little bit easier so that more people give it a go. I believe that it will significantly improve people’s lifestyles, just like it did mine. That, in turn, can have a real positive impact on our cities - not only because they will be less polluted and congested, but because their citizens will be healthier and happier.
Blubel is currently available for pre-order through this Kickstarter campaign.