Lots of carmakers want to improve road safety by getting cars to talk to each other with a technology called C-V2X. But a startup called Spoke plans to bring the technology to bicyclists next year and, after that, to scooter riders and motorcyclists. A trio of gadgets from the startup is designed to help drivers spot cyclists and vice versa.
Spoke’s first product, a phone-size device called ConnectMe that attaches to a bike frame or tucks into a pocket will broadcast a cyclist’s detailed position information to nearby cars. It uses the C-V2X (cellular vehicle to everything) — a wireless communication technology that’s gained a small foothold in the auto industry. It’ll dovetail with two other Spoke products, the ControlIt bike computer and the SeeYou rear view camera.
Here’s one example of what the technology promises. A car driver preparing to make a right turn might not notice a cyclist riding in the driver’s blind spot who’d be cut off by that turn. The C-V2X system would register the driver’s steering wheel movement and alert both the driver and the cyclist of the potential problem. It’s a common problem when bikes and cars mix.
“It will dramatically improve your situational awareness,” said Spoke Chief Executive Jarrett Wendt, himself a cyclist. Spoke’s trio of products should add about $300 to $400 to the cost of a bicycle, with the ConnectMe arriving by September 2022 and the others by the end of the year.
C-V2X could dramatically reshape the driving experience, warning you about critical issues like the driver ahead slamming on the brakes. C-V2X could enable automated safety features and smooth the path toward fully autonomous vehicles, too.
Cycling is a new wrinkle to C-V2X, but it’s an important one given that people buy 15 million more bikes than cars each year in Europe and North America, Wendt said. Ford, Trek Bicycle, Bosch and Tome software also are working to link cars and bicycles.
The big problem with C-V2X is that it’s not useful until lots of cars have it, and there’s not much of an incentive for carmakers to offer it when it doesn’t do much yet. A C-V2X predecessor, called DSRC, made almost no headway despite two decades of work on the technology.
C-V2X champions believe its use of mainstream mobile phone and network technology — 4G and 5G — will make it more affordable and appealing than DSRC. And some government agencies, including the US Federal Communications Commission, are on board.
One of the biggest C-V2X backers is smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm, which is supplying Spoke with electronics components.
“I do believe there will be an avalanche soon” for C-V2X adoption, thanks to carmakers and cities warming up to it, said Praveen Singh, Qualcomm’s director of business development. Ford and Audi are C-V2X fans, and China has blessed the technology. Cities and road operators like C-V2X as a way to control how traffic lights route drivers through intersections or turn lights green for approaching emergency vehicles, he said.
The ConnectMe should have an eight-hour battery life. The ControlIt bike computer, which has a display and can run apps downloaded from mainstream app stores, likely will run a bit over seven hours, Wendt said. The SeeYou camera should last four hours with continuous use but can run longer in a low-power mode when cyclists are out of traffic.