Our vision is to provide safer and smarter routes to all riders across the globe. The first step in achieving that goal is to create the world’s first connected bicycle; the Valour.
Before I joined the team, what the Valour should be was already defined; phone connectivity, bike to bike communication, navigation, geo location for antitheft, blind spot detection, integrated headlamp, haptic feedback, and no need for wall charging were all part of the vision.
When I started at Vanhawks, my first task was to specify how exactly we were going to achieve any of the aforementioned features. One feature of particular interest to me was the bike to bike mesh, and how we’d go about creating a mesh network early in our product launch when we have as little as 2000 bikes spread across the world.
Before my time with Vanhawks, the original plan was to use a sub GHz radio, like an Xbee, to get a two way radio with up to a km range. Unfortunately, with a ground level antenna, urban centers, such as downtown Toronto, limit the range to under 200 m (non-line of sight). While 200 m is quite impressive in an urban canyon, the power required to achieve this raised SAR compliance concerns, as the antenna was to be housed in the handlebar (less than 20 cm from the rider). To add to our woes, a proprietary sub GHz link, even at 200 m, was insufficient to build a mesh unless we had a valour at every intersection of a city.
The solution to our problems: use a more ubiquitous protocol, such as WiFi. In fact, since we were certain cyclists would not like a GSM subscription fee, WiFi made the most sense. WiFi allows us to use WiFi direct (or similar) for bike to bike communication, albeit at reduced range compared to a sub GHz radio (100 m line of sight max). Of course, the largest boon of WiFi is the ability to build partnerships with vendors to jump onto open WiFi networks, or even ask Valour owners to help build the mesh by sharing their home WiFi. WiFi literally makes the Valour a connected bicycle, and allows us to build our connected framework even with only 1 bicycle in a city.
What else does WiFi get us? Consider this situation; you go to Starbucks, connect to their free WiFi, and your phone then provisions the Valour with the same credentials. Now, when your Valour is tampered with, you receive a notification of what is happening with your Valour. We also get the added benefit of the Valour automatically syncing ride data to the server when you get home, as well as improved geo location features. Of course, choosing WiFi wasn’t all roses and rainbows; the range is shorter, and the protocol is harder to use, but thanks to a plethora of prebuilt modules, we were able to cut out months of development time. Admittedly, evaluating all the WiFi options were a bit of a headache, but luckily support from Arrow was a pretty good painkiller.
Communication aside, powering all the Valours subsystems is something I really enjoyed working on… but that’s a post for another day. Until then!
Follow Eric on Twitter @Eric_M_Monteiro