Despite the proliferation of new bike lanes and bike share programs in many cities, riding on crowded urban streets often remains pretty scary. You’re weaving through a sea of honking trucks and texting drivers, any of whom could accidentally swerve and kill you. Exactly how stressful is it? Now you can strap on a new mind-reading bike helmet to find out.
The MindRider helmet uses a built-in sensor to figure out if its wearer is calm, panicking, or some state in between. Then it hooks up with a GPS connection to map out stress levels along any given route. On a ride, the helmet also shines a colored light as a signal to drivers of the cyclist's mood: Green means fine, a yellow light indicates some stress, red means the rider is upset, and a blinking red light means there’s a serious problem.
Designed by Arlene Ducao and Ilias Koen—two data visualization experts who work with wearable computing technology in their spare time—the helmet is the latest of several iterations. At first, the designers were interested in adding lights to helmets as simple convenience, since their regular lights kept getting stolen off their bikes. Then Ducao left to study at MIT Media Lab and started thinking about the possibility of doing more.
"When I moved to Boston, a lot of consumer-grade EEG devices were coming out and I thought it would be fun to play with them, particularly because we were working on headgear," Ducao says.
The first prototypes of the helmet just had colored lights, but the GPS adds new potential. "Now that it is a connected device, we definitely see its power in yielding insights over time," Ducao explains. "Urban and transportation planners can look at the data of many people and use that for transportation planning—things like bike lanes or bike-share programs."
As a large group of people start to use the device, it can also be used for navigation. "You can access the data of others to help navigate you in a way that’s potentially less stressful, potentially more relaxing and more safe," she says.
This spring, the designers plan to do more tests and launch a crowdfunding campaign to begin manufacture. Right now, they're finalizing designs and tweaking the shape and look of the helmet.
"We’re pretty excited for the weather to get warm, and bust these out and start exploring neighborhoods," Ducao says. "For instance, making a MindRider map of Manhattan. It’s really fun to see our own brain state visualized on the map as we’re moving in the environment, and I think it will be fun to see that en masse."