Lumigrids: Do you think cyclists are stupid?

I’ve been seeing a lot of design concepts coming from red dot that are incredibly flawesome. But what’s that? red dot is a respected organization regarding design? Yes, they are. But a lot of the poorly designed product concepts seem to be coming from this strange off-shoot, red dot Singapore. I don’t know how they are related to the other red dot, but I do know that these red dot Singapore products are giving the Electrolux Design Competition — the worst design competition EVER — a run for it’s money, in regards to incredibly questionable design concepts.

Case in point: the red dot Singapore award-winning Lumigrids, designed by Prof. Gan Jing, Xun Zhang, An Pengcheng, Sun Yan, Jiang Cong, Li Ke, Du Tao, Zheng Yuemei, Cai Jing, and Liu Zhenghao all hailing from Sichuan University, Department of Industrial Design.

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What is Lumigrids? It’s a dimly-lit grid of light that’s projected onto the ground, in front of your bicycle. I’m sure you’re asking, “Why a grid of light? Why don’t you just shine regular light on the ground?” Well, I guess this is an answer:

“It can be difficult for night cyclists to get a good sense of the condition of the terrain ahead, even with a typical bicycle lamp. In many cases, a bicycle lamp will cast shadows on both concave and convex areas of the ground. This can hinder the rider’s judgment of the road surface ahead, and increase the potential for danger.”

Huh. So a normal bicycle lamp will cast dangerous shadows, hindering our judgement. Okay. How will a light grid help with that?

“Lumigrids can project a grid onto the ground. On a flat road surface, the grid will consist of standard squares. On a rough road surface, the grids will deform accordingly. By observing the motion and deformation of the grids, the rider can intuitively understand the landforms ahead.”

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So, instead of casting shadows due to ground deformations like a normal bicycle light, the Lumigrids light grid will deform in shape due to ground deformations. From seeing that information, we know that the road is rough. Wait, what…?

Think about when you’re looking at things in the dark. First off, what will help you see better in the dark? Shining a lot of light on everything. Why does that help? Because we gain valuable information from seeing. If an area is well lit, we can see things. And when we see these things, we can use our brain to determine what those things are, and we can determine how those things relate to what we’re doing. It’s pretty simple.

Example: you’re riding your bike down the street at dusk. You turn on your typical bicycle lamp. Now you can see the road in front of you. You see what looks like a large pothole in the road. How did you notice it? Because the light was shining on it, and we know what potholes look like. You swerve and avoid the pothole.

Now, let’s take that same example, and replace “You turn on your typical bicycle lamp” with “You turn on Lumigrids”. What changes? Instead of light shining on everything in front of your bike, illuminating the road, now there is a grid of light on the ground right in front of your bike. And now you’re staring at the ground, at this grid…when you should really be looking ahead while you’re riding. You notice that this one part of the grid is no longer straight; it’s deformed.

crooked lumigrids

You think that maybe you should stay away from that deformation in the grid, so you do. Turns out that the object that caused the grid deformation was a pothole.

In both cases, we used information that we received from our eyes to determine whether that obstacle was something to avoid. However, in the first example, we knew what the obstacle was: it was a pothole. How did we know it was a pothole? Because light was shining on it, and we know what potholes look like.  In the second example, all we saw was a deformed light grid. The grid isn’t bright enough to illuminate the pothole, so we didn’t know what it was. But we did know that a deformation in the grid meant that the road was not flat in that area, and that area should probably be avoided.

While both outcomes were the same, one example took a little more thinking than the other. If we use Lumigrids to illuminate the road, we are required to look at this grid, and study if its shape is irregular, and then come up with assumptions on why it is irregular, then use those assumptions to determine whether that area is safe to ride. Which is a lot of thinking to do when you’re riding fast at night. How is going through this process of determining if there is an obstacle impeding our bike path easier and safer than, I don’t know, shining light on the road? It’s not.

The problem with this product is that the designers assume people are stupid.

“…a bicycle lamp will cast shadows on both concave and convex areas of the ground. This can hinder the rider’s judgment of the road surface ahead…”

Uhhh, I’m pretty sure if I saw something with a shadow that’s in front of my bike path, whether that shadow is concave or convex, I would

  1. know what that object is, because light is shining on it, causing it to have a shadow, which means I can clearly see it
  2. make sure to avoid it.

How do I know that I would do this? Because  I HAVE A BRAIN. I don’t need a freakin’ grid of light that changes shape to tell me that there *might* be something in my bike path. It’s almost as if the designers think people are autonomous robots, that aren’t programmed with enough information regarding objects in their environment. I could totally see this grid system being used by some mobile robot which just scans an area it is traversing, and operates off no real logic or memory, like an autonomous Mars surface rover. That rover doesn’t know what giant rocks are, and it doesn’t know that giant rocks could injure it. But if it has some sort of measuring tool, like a Lumigrids light grid, it’s cameras could pick up that there is a deformation in the grid, and then make a calculation to avoid that area. But see, humans don’t need to go through all that trouble. Why? BECAUSE HUMANS ARE SMART. We know what giant rocks that could injure us look like, and we know that we should avoid them. How do we know this? Because we have eyes, and we can see things, and we have a lifetime of experience with giant rocks. The key to our understanding and avoiding these giant rocks is that we need to SEE these giant rocks. Which brings us to another point…

Grid of light? THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS.

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From the picture, it seems like the designers are creating a focused grid of light using what amounts to an array of LEDs. LEDs are point sources of light. And because it’s light, it spreads out evenly from the source, and dims rapidly as it moves further from the source. This means that the Lumigrids module, as pictured, would create a diffuse pattern of light in front of the rider. Hell, the light coming from the Lumigrids unit in the rendered pic above shows how it would diffuse.

I’m sure they could use lasers to create that grid, but I’d imagine that would take a large array of lasers to project a grid like that. Or it would require one laser, a beam splitter, and maybe a way to scan the laser to make a grid, like what people do to draw pictures with lasers at laser light show. Or it could use a laser with a diffraction grating to make a grid, like what people do to hunt for ghosts…?

Honestly, I don’t see a ghost in those pics. Oh, but yeah, back to the topic…of course, the laser array and other equipment would have to be miniaturized to attach to the front of your handlebars.

Also, why is the light grid blue? It’s well known that our eyes are not receptive to the wavelengths of light associated with blue, as they are to other colors.

population weighted linear cone sensitivity functions —the Stockman & Sharpe (2000) 10° quantal cone fundamentals on a linear vertical scale, scaled to reflect L, M and S cone proportions in the retina (1.0 = total cumulative response by all three cones)

Yeah, that’s a weird & possibly complicated graph. But just look at the line for blue compared to green and red. People have a hard time seeing blue light. That’s a fact. It would be very difficult to see the Lumigrids at night, even more difficult when we’re faced with the bright lights of an oncoming car, or even overhead street lamps.

If, somehow, we overcame all these engineering oversights regarding the operation of Lumigrids, and it did project a grid on the ground, would the grid be a square? If it’s projected from the handlebar of a bike, the projected grid would suffer from a keystone effect, where the gridlines close to the rider would be narrower, and the lines would spread out. Most video projection systems have ways to compensate for keystone effects via software, but would those compensation techniques be a viable solution for a possible laser-projected grid mounted on a bicycle? I’m not sure, and I don’t think the designers even considered this.

Designers that only think, and don’t do.

I have no idea how this design project was conceived. It’s as if the designers never rode a bike in the dark…ever. I mean, as soon as I saw this concept, I thought, “Huh, I wonder if they rode a bike in the dark, to get a feeling of how well someone can see while riding in the dark?” Then I thought, “I wonder if they rode with a laser pointer with them, and sort of scanned it back and forth to see if it aided them in avoiding obstacles?” I actually did do that after seeing this product concept. And guess what? It didn’t help me at all. However, what did help me was the fact that there was light from the laser, reflecting off the ground and other objects, which helped me to see. Also, my laser was green, and quite bright, which makes it easy for people to see in the dark.

Lumigrids is a design concept based on incorrect assumptions regarding the experiences of bicyclists riding at night. All it would take was a ride at night for the designers to understand what things could help a cyclist ride more safely in the dark. But maybe instead of putting themselves in the shoes of the user, these designers focused more on the ‘cool factor’ of a Tron-like grid of light, then justified the helpfulness of this grid by assuming that people could get easily confused with normal lights. And we all know what happens when designers assume: they make flawesome products…oh, and “they make an ass out of u and me.”

Via red-dot.sg