Eyes on Bikes

Eyes on Bikes

March 18, 2022
Liz Yu


The outbreak of COVID-19 has changed the lives of people all over the world with perhaps one of the main upsides being the record-breaking uptake in cycling. Beyond just a socially-distanced way to travel, cycling is an affordable, healthy, and environmentally friendly form of transport. However, cycling can be a daunting prospect for most with safety concerns often being noted as the biggest barrier to getting out on bikes, a result coupled by infrastructure issues and attitudes towards cyclists. People travelling by bike often find themselves facing numerous concerns - one of the most prominent being near misses and close passes caused by the dehumanisation of cyclists on roads.

The Nudge Theory

Road safety and psychology experts have suggested that often, cyclists aren’t perceived to be human by other road users, which increases the risk of road aggression encountered. Habitual behavioural habits of drivers around cyclists are complex, without any active sets of action, it’s difficult to change and even harder to foster new behaviours.

An undertaking close pass in Oxford

Though REBO was created to give cyclists an easy way to capture and report incidents on the road, it was crucial to us when building this product to also look at how REBO could prevent near misses from happening in the first place. The challenge here: how can we use a bike-mounted device to intuitively humanise our users to those moving around them without fueling road aggression and breaking the fragile relationship between bike riders and drivers?

Our answer? Behavioural Economics.

The nudge theory is a concept in behavioural psychology which proposes that, by utilising indirect suggestions, we can impact the behaviour and decisions of individuals.

Studies have suggested that the addition of humanising factors, like a face or a glance, canlead to greater acceptance of cyclists on the road. We’ve taken this concept and incorporated a subconscious nudge in REBO.

REBO’s Watching Eye

We’ve utilised what is called the watching eye effect to raise recognition of humans on bikesand nudge safer behaviour of those moving around cyclists in an instinctive and natural way. By incorporating designs that have prevention at the core, we create a more feasible and friendly way to nudge road users towards more considerate and empathetic behaviour on the roads.

The watching eye effect is the use of eye elements to create the illusion of an individual being watched. It subconsciously nudges people towards acting in a way which is deemed more positive and appropriate by society.

The eye design also helps increase cognitive efficiency in the brain to allow the recognition of a human element - naturally prompting a more conscious and thoughtful change in road behaviour.

We have seen effective use of the watching eye effect in bike theft. Thefts were reduced via the use of staring eyes, with crime rates falling by 35% (compared to a 16% reduction with CCTV).

Poster used for bike theft prevention study

TfL's use of the Watching Eye Effect

We’ve also seen this recently adapted in transport with Jaguar Land Rover utilising watching eyes as a means of communication between autonomous vehicles and road users.

JLG’s intelligent pod signaling intent to road users with eye movement

Our product team took inspiration from various animal eyes to create a natural look, careful to ensure it looks stylish butnot menacing or unfriendly.

REBO Concept Sketches

The designs were tested on various focus groups of road users to ensure we are getting an immediate positive emotion.    

Fundamentally, the use of a ‘nudge’ boils down to increasing courtesy on the road for people to navigate their streets safely. With fear of safety being the main barrier preventing people from travelling by bikes, we hope that the friendly watching eyes of REBO will keep those around cyclists moving just that bit more consciously, passing just a bit wider, and theriders feeling just that bit safer. 

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