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Inventive students focus on bike safety

Choong Ng bike safety

Grace Huynh, a graduate student at the Medical School, was half of Team Brite Lite, which took first in the 2008-09 Bike Safety Invention Challenge.

bike safety detail

BY MICHAEL PEÑA

Nearly 100 collisions between bicycles and vehicles were reported on campus between 2003 and 2007, according to Stanford police. Eighty-seven of those 96 crashes resulted in injury, and 40 of them involved students—either as a cyclist or driver.

The university is constantly ramping up efforts to make the campus safer for bikers. Pedestrian zones have been established, clearly striped roundabouts and bike lanes have been created, and Stanford's bicycle program coordinator, along with university police, host safety presentations throughout the year.

On Feb. 26, three teams of students were honored for inventing products that might just keep cyclists from becoming the next statistic. The teams were competing in the 2008-09 Bike Safety Invention Challenge, one of three student innovation contests held in conjunction with Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford.

The awards ceremony was held at the end of EWeek, and Team Brite Lite, which consisted of Grace Huynh and Choong Ng, earned the top prize for their invention of the HighLite. The device provides increased daytime and nighttime visibility of bicyclists from all directions with a flexible string of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) enmeshed in a reflective strip. Huynh and Ng were awarded a $5,000 team grant for their project.

According to contest organizers, the versatility, simplicity, manufacturability and affordability of the design won over the panel of judges. The panel included Stanford police Chief Laura Wilson; Randy Livingston, Stanford's chief financial officer and vice president for business affairs; Ellen Corman, injury prevention coordinator at Stanford Hospital; Randy Komisar, partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; and Thomas Prehn, director of CatEye Service & Research Center.

Blair Clark, vice president of marketing and sales for Smith Optics and a board member of the Bikes Belong Foundation, also served as a judge. The coalition partnered with Clark after his brother, Paul, died in 2005 from a bike-truck collision in the East Bay.

"I fully expect that many of the product ideas generated by your contest can be commercialized by the Interbike trade show this fall, and I will be surprised if I don't see one there," Clark told contest organizers, referring to the largest bicycle trade show in North America.

The second-place team, SkullFX, designed a halo-like device that attaches to a bike and increases visibility during the day and night. The device features a ring of LEDs directed radially and downward to illuminate a field around the bicycle and create a larger footprint that is more easily visible at night from any angle.

Team SkullFX received a $2,500 grant and included four Stanford Biodesign Innovation Fellows: Greg Magee, Kevin Chao, Ron Jou and Avi Roop. The Stanford Biodesign Program co-hosted the bike-safety contest with Parking & Transportation Services (P&TS), along with major support from the School of Medicine, including Stanford Trauma, and the Department of Public Safety.

"The Biodesign Program exists to promote the invention of medical devices. What better device than one that prevents injuries before they happen," said Christine Kurihara, the program's manager of special projects. "Having had my own bicycle accident in 2006, I felt a genuine need on campus to see more regard for personal safety on the part of students who ride."

Third place, which came with a $1,000 grant, went to Team FCBC (For Cyclists by Cyclists). Its members included Daniel Shen, Alan Asbeck and Dmitry Khabashesku, graduate students in electrical engineering and medicine. Recognizing that nearly half of all bike-accident deaths occur during the day, they designed a low-power light that is easily visible by motorists in broad daylight. They also proposed a system for traffic intersections that would detect cyclists via radio-frequency identification and announce their presence to motorists.

"Improving bicycle safety is a critical need for Stanford and society at large, especially if we are to become a greener community with more people riding instead of driving to work," Livingston said. Having been in a bike crash himself, Livingston intends to speak at the March 16 safety presentation at the P&TS offices.

Part of the Department of Public Safety's Bike Diversion Program, upcoming presentation dates can be found on the department's website, http://police.stanford.edu.