It’s not rocket science – or is it? Turn signal (R)Evolution!
by Miha Ernstschneider STS
It’s morning again and time to go to work. As I do almost every day, I take a quick glimpse at the weather report and open my closet to pick the shirt and sometimes a sweater that will go beneath my motorcycle jacket. Today it was cold, very unusual for this period of the year.
I got on my bike and off we go. As soon as I hit the roads, everything became very »usual«. Thousands of cars, vans, motorcycles… and every single one of the drivers seems to be in his own little world. I wonder why they are “alone”, at least they act like there is no one else near. Speeding, honking the horn, violently overtaking, swiftly accelerating and braking hard, not even bothering to use turn indicators…
All the available technology makes us wonder, where the joy in life is if every part of our daily task is being automated but I believe I got an answer for that – we are a danger to ourselves and our own negligence is the perfect recipe for most accidents on the roads. No wonder that humans will soon be transported with automated vehicles and if we keep on to consider ourselves as superior to other people, there will soon be nothing left to do for a living being that is not at least in some part controlled by a machine – a new age »Big Brother« that will leave nothing to your own choice.
Not all innovations are bad and people soon accept the benefits of evolution, innovation and customisation. Some are fun, some make life easier, faster, and more comfortable – the best ones offer a bit of everything and sometimes even a bit more than we expect – they become a necessity.
Since I am very interested in physics and space technology and I earn my bread with motorcycle gear, I will show you how can the use of logic and taking a different perspective in creating an innovative product make a simple task obsolete and irrelevant for the user but increases his comfort, safety and the general usability by taking a task out of the human hands and automate it.
In my last blog, »The use of Turn Signals in traffic – a boring topic, ancient technology or »Pandora’s’ box« in development departments?”, I wrote about the birth and the history of turn signals, the evolution and standardisation, benefits and issues that we are having with the existing systems… But today I want to take you to the future – at least the future of turn signal use on motorcycles.
We all know it is not hard to press the button to reset the turn signal switch (some prefer to call it the indicator switch), we all know that in time it becomes somewhat close to a “tick” and riders often press the reset button compulsively even when not needed – better safe than sorry. But it still happens a lot to often, that for some reason we are “taking a turn” for miles and miles… The hardest part of all is to admit, that you are human and mistakes are something we do on daily basis.
I have a riding buddy that always claims it never happens to him, even though I had to remind him several times to cancel. Mostly he responded: “Yeah yeah, I was just about to cancel, I pressed the button but these thick gloves are clumsy!” or “I just wanted to pick up a bit of speed and shift gears first.”. Well, my reaction was always very straight – admit that you make mistakes and stop selling crap. It was not long after that he decided to finally accepted my offer and to go for a test ride with my V-Strom with Smart Turn System installed, you know, the worlds’ most accurate and reliable self-cancelling turn signal module for motorcycles 😉 (Sometimes I scare myself how I can make a commercial break at every possible opportunity – no offence) 😉
Finally, he admitted that there are some things in life that are better automated than being subjected to human error. In the end, we do not ride motorcycles because it is so great to operate turn signals (indicators) manually, they can even put us in a lot of trouble if we tend to misuse them. What amazed me about his reaction was that he thought it was impossible that the Smart Turn System module performed so well and since I believe it is easier to move a mountain than to change his opinion, I was really stunned by his reaction. “How did you guys do it?” he asked… Do you also want to know?
IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE – OR IS IT?
There are 300 million motorcycles with different characteristics on the roads and 300 million riders with different riding styles. 300 million different habits and expectations – “How to please them all?” was one of the biggest questions before we started. There was nothing in the world that could give us an opportunity to learn by example, not even a glimpse of existing motorcycle technology that could offer a closer look to solving this issue of self-cancelling turn signals on motorcycles.
Only after we read about how to land a space probe on Mars, to land a Space-X rocket vertically after the descent or how can a drone know its position and remain stable in the air, compensating different and ever changing wind conditions. Only then we got an idea of approach and we threw all existing technology in the farthest corner of the office and started from zero.
What defines a motorcycle ride – type of the motorcycle, how it accelerates, leans, breaks, how its machine vibrates, what kind of vibration is caused by the riding surface, the riding style of the rider and a whole lot more. We took all these parameters in the account and started to search for technology that could allow us to track and measure these parameters and changes during a ride. How fast do we need to transform these measurements? In the end, we came to a conclusion that we need to monitor these changes in real time, so we need a powerful processor.
With the basic idea on a paper, different sensors and a few processors we started to put things together and soon the first prototype was born. Well, it was a piece of electronics on the table plugged into a battery and when we moved it, the led light attached to it stopped emitting light. As soon as we brought this bundle of cables and the proto-board to the motorcycle, nothing worked anymore.
We soon realised that there is a lot more work to do, research and development were the number one priorities and after almost two years of “after work” work and countless sleepless nights, we made it work on our test motorcycle. At first, the system recognised the simple left and right turn but it was enough to prove the concept. The team was overwhelmed and happy as never before.
Happy times did not last long. Soon we realised we spent all our money and savings for development and we did not even come close to finalise the product. Search for an investor began and we were lucky enough to get the support from a Slovenian national fund for research and development of specific usable technology. With those funds, we were able to take the development one step further and we started a beta-test campaign and gathered a community of more than 500 riders that were willing to install and test our prototype on their motorcycles. The feedback was amazing and we got a lot of feedback that allowed us to make the final adjustments. Over 1 million miles were made altogether in the beta test phase and the final outcome was nothing less than magical.
We created a piece of technology that allows us to define motorcycle movement in unprecedented details and soon we became aware that this technology will enable us to apply it on several different fields of the motorcycle ride with numerous different products and applications.
Every piece of technology is becoming smart and let’s face it, motorcycles will also become smart one day. But there is one very important fact we took into account – let’s develop technology that improves the riding experience without taking the fun in riding away – and this is Smart Turn System – improves safety, allows more focus on the road ahead instead of the dashboard and increases the riders comfort. Is it rocket science? The Smart Turn System hasn’t (yet) detached itself from Earth’s gravity but it has made some big evolution steps on its way to become a revolution in turn signal use on motorcycles.