Last Friday we were joined by Tine Bech and Julian Sykes to talk to us about their collaborative project Bike Tag. Bike Tag is a system of led lights, proximity sensors and a Smartphone application. Created during The Playable City Sprint by artists Jayoung Bang, Yunjun Lee, Tine Bech and Julian Sykes, it’s “an urban platform that gives cyclists a voice in their city.”

The group built the system on three values that respond directly to contemporary urban challenges: it had to have social meaning; it had to be physical and visible in the city; and it had to be a system that allowed people to participate and create. It enables new kinds of social interaction, promotes safer cycling and through mapping routes and could influence future town planning.

Made in just a few days, the prototype captured the imagination of all who encountered it and now Julian and Tine are developing Bike Tag to a fully operational system to be premiered in Bristol in the Spring. They joined us in the Studio to talk through their plans and ideas and share the technical and creative challenges they face.  

How it works: Participants kit out their bikes and choose one of three colours for their lights, yellow, red or blue. As they cycle around the city, their route (tracked via GPS) is recorded live to an online map in their chosen colour. When they come close to another Bike Tag rider, the lights on both bikes temporarily turn green to signify an encounter. Encounters are also mapped and over time, areas of the city where people meet and popular routes emerge. The system also allows for street games to be imagined and implemented. Riders score points for encounters and colour battles can spread through the city.

They went on to talk about the benefits of being able to use the location data collected from players to create meaningful maps. They would hopefully record routes that may take longer but are more practical and beautiful or perhaps even just pass by a lovely little coffee shop, the maps would be an easy way to enhance a user experience and help them explore the city around them. It would be an open source map like OpenStreetMap but specifically for cyclists.     

Tine and Julian explained that we don’t often see cycling in the news unless it’s as part of a competitive sporting event. The emphasis on these events is pushing yourself and speed, which is echoed by the new iphone app Strava. Strava lets athletes all over the world experience social fitness—sharing, comparing and competing with each other's personal fitness data via mobile and online apps. While this really competitive element might suit some people, with Bike Tag, Julian and Tine want to make cycling more playful and enjoyable and encourage interactions. Tine and Julian then opened it up to the floor and these are some of the main discussion points that came up:

Two discrete concepts
Might it be better to separate the playful light system from the mapping project?

Safety of Riders
The sidelights would increase cyclist’s visibility, but could playing the game become a distraction on the road?     

Would there be different designs according to the style of bikes you have, for example, people who have bought vintage bikes for the aesthetics would be unlikely to want a strip of LEDs on the side of their bikes.

Would people be prepared to pay £10 for them, could they sell them in pairs, could they distribute them via some sort of funded scheme? Would they have to be removable because of thieves?

Technical Barrier
How to overcome it being seen as something that you need technical knowledge to use: some of the people that Tine has approached so far have suggested that they wouldn’t be able to take part because they aren’t technical, how can it be developed so people don’t see this as a barrier, as in other applications such as Strava.  

Tine and Julian are currently working on the project, and are asking people to take part in a short online survey to help them develop it further, fill it in here.