John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The "Veloloop" emits a low-frequency signal to alert traffic sensors to a cyclist's presence.
Want to get to work a few seconds quicker while also feeling like you can bend the invisible forces of the universe? Then put in an advance order for the "Veloloop," a metal doohickey that attaches to your bike and allegedly turns red lights green.
The traffic-hacking device is the invention of Bay Area man Nat Collins, a longtime tech worker and avid cyclist. (Seriously, the guy owns six bikes.) Collins has designed it to help out in situations when a bike rider is stuck at a light—for instance, in a lane with a left-turn signal that seems forever red.
Electronics buried underneath the road are supposed to detect vehicles at traffic lights. Some magnetic sensors, however, can't detect bikes due to their relative lack of ferrous metals. Other "inductive loop sensors" can detect aluminum, but still might not sense a bike if it's not stopped over the right spot or if the sensor has poor sensitivity.
California has deployed road sensors meant to sniff out bicycles—though one "Veloloop" beta tester says they don't always work—but in some other states cyclists are kind of screwed at older-generation stoplights. Here's where the 'loop comes in handy, writes Collins on Kickstarter:
Instead of waiting at intersections for a car to come along and trigger the traffic sensors, you can trigger them yourself with the Veloloop! The Veloloop attaches to your bike and detects when you're at an intersection and triggers the sensor just like a car does....
Using a patented circuit, the Veloloop triggers the sensors using VERY LOW POWER, so a pair of AAA batteries can power the Veloloop for a year or more.
An LED on the Veloloop tells the rider if the Veloloop is searching for a sensor (flashing red LED) and when it is locked on and triggering the sensor (solid red LED). There's no more guessing whether the light will turn green or whether you'll be turning red with anger over not getting a green!
The device is far from reaching its November 7 funding goal, perhaps due to its proposed price of $99. But for bike riders who value every minute of the day, that might not be too much to pay for zapping those annoying reds. Another beta tester timed rides over four days, and reports that the "Veloloop" gave him an "average of 88.8 seconds of improvement" during his commute.