SmartHalo: Your Ultimate Travel Companion

Hi guys, Claire speaking! I am the SmartHalo UX Test Designer, one of the lucky people who gets to test SmartHalo out on the streets! Recently, I went to visit my parents in Europe and I brought a prototype of the SmartHalo to test abroad. I discovered that it made a great travel companion so I wanted to share an overview of my bike rides and some travel tips for 3 of the best cities in Europe.

SmartHalo goes to Europe!

The city of Leuven

Leuven, Belgium

The first city where I tested the SmartHalo to was Leuven, Belgium, where the Stella Artois beer is brewed. I was volunteering for a BEST Europe sustainability course at the university KU Leuven. SmartHalo took me onto new streets and to parts of the city I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to explore. I biked through the beautiful KU Leuven campus, along the Sint-Donatuspark park and into the main square. I also went along the river and stopped at the Dijleterrassen, where the fire department pulls out an average of 500 stolen bikes every year! Maybe we should start looking for our stolen bikes in the St. Lawrence… Highlights of my time in Leuven were tasting Belgian waffles, eating fries with mayo and exploring Oude Markt, the longest street of pubs in Europe. Leuven has great bike paths and the students in this city are a blast to be around!

Enjoying summertime in Plzeň

Claire and her folding bike

My folding bike and me

Next, I tried out SmartHalo in Plzeň, Czech Republic, where my parents live and where the famous Pilsner Urquell beer is brewed. Europe actually has a lot of interesting beers! My friend Kari (check her blog Travelling Mug) came to visit and we rode my parents’ vintage foldable bikes around the city. SmartHalo held up well on the cobblestone streets and we went for a great bike ride along the river and into the main square. Plzeň has two free outdoor rock climbing walls and lots of outdoor rollerblading tracks and beach volleyball courts, all biking distance from the main square. In addition to having delicious beer, Plzeň also has tons of ice cream stands, cafes, restaurants and parks, making it a relaxing, refreshing and inexpensive side trip from Prague.

Bringing my travel companion to Prague

Lunch in Prague

Lunch in Prague

My mother and I took our bikes on the train from Plzeň to Prague on a mission to find bike touring bags. From the train station, we had SmartHalo navigate us to CityBikes, in a part of Prague that neither my mother nor I had been to before. We made it to the bike shop without any confusion or incorrect turns, and with extra time to look around at the buildings and people. From there we navigated to Domácí těstoviny, one of my favourite places to eat in Prague. On our way there we passed by the Zizkov Television Tower, a famous (and in my opinion, weird) transmitter tower with sculptures of babies crawling up on it. My mother even put the SmartHalo on her bike.

Some travel tips

The city of Prague

Prague

It’s really easy to bring your own bike around Europe by train, most trains have a car with bicycle racks that can accommodate for about 12 bikes. It usually cost between 10 to 30€ to bring your bike but the spots can fill up fast, so you need to book your ticket a few days in advance. If train spots are full you can usually take your bike on a bus too.

I also picked up a Use-it map at hostels or tourist offices for each of these three cities. The maps are made by locals and designed as a hybrid between a city guide and a map. They are free, targeted for young travelers, and help you get off the beaten path to discover what makes each city special.

In order to use most of your travel companion’s features, you will need data on your smartphone. I bought a sim card in Europe (there are lots of companies, I used O2 and Vodaphone), it was cheap and allowed me to use my phone both in Belgium and Czech Republic.

***

Being able to use SmartHalo not only made my trips more exciting and interesting, it also gave me the freedom to look around and see the cities. Since I didn’t have to concentrate at looking for street names, it gave me the opportunity to see new things and to visit new areas and neighborhoods. SmartHalo also took the stress out of planning and navigating, adding to the fun of adventure and exploration. Right after my friends and family, SmartHalo was my ultimate travel companion!

 

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Production Update: Testing (part 1)

As we are gearing up towards our launch, we have entered a critical phase of the product development: testing. As you can imagine, a connected device such as SmartHalo requires a bevy of components to work together: several finely assembled components on a circuit board (the hardware) interact with a mobile device (the software), all within a plastic casing that must protect each of the components while being optimized to diffuse light and sound to the user. And this must work on thousands of units.

As if this wasn’t enough of a challenge by itself, this experience must meet the expectations of cyclist’s needs and perception. Every light pattern must be fine tuned to make sure our users understand at all times what the device is instructing them to do. Since the genesis of SmartHalo, we oriented our efforts towards creating a minimalist interface, but the art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity; creating a simple interface is actually a lot of work.

To make sure each of these parts integrates into an awesome end product, test procedures are designed to ensure a level of quality you expect. These happen at three different levels of product development:

  • Functional tests validate each of the products output on the assembly line
  • Software tests make sure our code works properly
  • User tests focus on how cyclists actually use SmartHalo

We’ll detail each of these in the following updates, with a focus on Functional tests today.

Functional tests

Making the first SmartHalo prototypes was hard. Going from those early prototypes and designing the product to be ready for mass production? Even harder. To make sure every component works well on every unit that is produced on the assembly line, our engineers have worked in partnership with Averna to develop test jigs. Averna is a world renowned test company that has worked with some of the biggest tech companies in the world. As a matter of fact, you probably use tech products that have been tested by them daily.

What’s a test jig? It’s a station equipped with various sensors that validates if each unit executes every features adequately in as little time as possible (since we’re producing thousands of units!). It checks every LED’s output, checks if the Bluetooth antennas work well, tests the speaker’s output and so on. Here’s a video explaining that process:

Once fully assembled, each unit from the assembly line is placed inside this jig while tests are run (this typically takes a minute per unit once the testing procedure is optimized). If a unit fails one or more tests, it is sent back to the assembly line to figure out what went wrong.

Next update we’ll detail how we test all those lines of code we’ve written.

 

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June Production Update

Things are looking good on the production side. Here are a few bullet point updates on our overall progress:

Hardware

  • Our manufacturing partner has provided us a few pre-release PCB prototypes to test out and good news: they work well! This means we can apply the finishing touches needed for the final release candidate.
Varitron

Photo from our manufacturing partner’s assembly line

  • Most components with long lead times have been ordered. Minor components with shorter lead times will be ordered in the coming weeks.
  • SmartHalo’s touch input is now functional! Still several tests to run, but it’s looking good so far.
SmartHalo circuits

SmartHalo’s circuits iterations (the white one is the latest!) and touch sensors

Casing

  • Our magnetic lock components are currently in production, check out the video below to see how they are done. As you can see, the whole lock mechanism is made of sturdy zinc making sure your device will be theft proof.
  • We are working closely with our plastic supplier to finalize the moulds. We expect first shot in the coming weeks. This is a crucial step because it allows us to see how every component looks and feels. If necessary, tweaks are then made to the moulds to improve each components’ fit and finish.

Firmware

  • Almost every light patterns and their associated functionality have been finalized! The only remaining ones are the battery charging animation and low battery signals.
  • The tapcode logic is also finished. Your tapcode allows you to deactivate the alarm when your phone is out of batteries.
  • The firmware bootloader is complete. This means you’ll be able to upgrade your SmartHalo as we release new features.
  • The next challenge is to improve SmartHalo’s security to make sure it only responds to your phone.

App

Putting the finishing touches on the two of the biggest features, development wise:

  • Navigation: right now it is functional, but needs some tweaking to make sure the experience is super smooth.
  • Automatic fitness tracking: we can track the user’s fitness data and are working on making it automatic: just by having your phone in your pocket, SmartHalo will track every single trip!
  • The Light and Assistant features are already functional (they have been for a while actually!). We still need to work on the automatic aspect of our light (to make sure it only lights up when it’s dark).
  • The next big challenges will be to handle the user’s profiles, the alarm settings and the secure device pairing (making sure SmartHalo responds only to your phone and not others’).
SmartHalo application

Latest version of each of the app’s tabs

User Tests

  • Weekly user tests have been going on since a few weeks to find the remaining glitches as well as to tweak the product’s feedback to users to make it more smooth and easy to use.

Overall, we’re really happy with the progress we’ve made since our last production updates. Still lots of work to do, but as you can see, we’re making loads of progress!

 

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SmartHalo in numbers!

A few days ago, we reached 10 000 fans on Facebook. This milestone is the proof of our growing community and it means a lot to us! To celebrate, we are sharing more figures with you, of all the things that makes (or made) SmartHalo, from day 1 until now. Enjoy!

infographiefinalev2

 

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Meet the team – Part 2

This week, we are sharing our second and last part of the team update. If you missed the first part, here it is.

ksteamEN2

As you can see, some of us are riding Moose Bicycle bikes. They have been gracefully sent to us by this Canadian bike company, you can check their bikes here.

We’ll be back with production news soon!

Photo credit from the featured image : Urbania

 

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Meet the team – Part 1

Since we launched the Kickstarter campaign, our team has grown from 7 to 13 people. Who would have thought that it would be so quick? We feel like it is time for you to meet us all, to put some faces behind the product and to know more about what we do all day.

We’ve asked each other the same questions and split the presentation in two parts, one today, the other next week. Let the presentation begin!

(Oh, and if you’re wondering, we’ll receive a brand new version of SmartHalo’s printed circuit boards next week, so we’ll be able to start testing them! More on that soon!)

Team-Part1V2

 

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Charging your SmartHalo

A quick update regarding the battery charging process of SmartHalo. A few have been asking questions concerning this recently so we feel like it’s a good time to clear this up.

To charge your device, you just remove SmartHalo’s top part with your magic key, plug it in for 4 hours to fill the battery up, and then clip SmartHalo back on your handlebar clips and you’re good to go. Since we don’t want you to charge your device often, we’ve made sure to pack a huge battery in the device and we’re happy to say that in our tests, we reach the promised three weeks of battery usage (this estimate is based on normal usage).

During our Kickstarter campaign, we reached stretch goal #3: wireless charging. Wireless charging replaces a traditional USB port with an induction charging pad, sort of like we’ve seen with some Android phones. After listening to your feedback and digging deeper into the design process, we’ve decided to go back to micro USB charging. Here’s why we think you’ll agree this was the better choice in the end:

It charges your battery faster

Wireless charging is less efficient than USB charging. In our tests, it took 30% more time to charge our battery completely, so we feel like going forward with USB charging is the way to go.

It’s compatible with every micro-USB cables you have

We almost all have micro-USB cables hanging around. It’s what every other electronic device uses to charge or connect (think Android phones or tablets, cameras, Bluetooth speakers and more). Instead of introducing a unique wireless charging pad that would only work with SmartHalo, we thought it would be easier for all to use the universal standard already in place (we ship SmartHalo with a 3’ micro USB cable).

USB charging allows you to charge SmartHalo while it’s still on your bike

Sure, removing SmartHalo is really easy thanks to our awesome magnetic locking mechanism, but some have asked if it would be possible to charge while the device is still on the bike. With USB charging, the port is located at product’s rear end, so it’s still reachable on the bike, as opposed to the wireless charging solution.

It’s weatherproof

Thanks to a rubber flap door, the micro USB port is covered and protected from rain, snow or mud.

Again, the feedback you have given us makes us feel confident that micro USB charging was the solution to adopt. More soon.

 

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SmartHalo’s Locking Mechanism

We’ve been mentioning our locking mechanism for a while now and today we can finally reveal more about it. This is a defining feature of SmartHalo so we’re thrilled to be able to show you this innovative system.

Locking mechanism

SmartHalo and its key

The Challenge

Unlike traditional bike accessories, SmartHalo has been designed to stay safely on your bike. We disliked the idea of accessories you have to take off after each ride and felt like SmartHalo had to be part of your bike. A car driver doesn’t remove its headlights or dashboard after each ride, so why should cyclists have to do it?

Unfortunately, as you all know, bike and accessory theft is a real scourge, especially in urban environments. Several bike accessory companies have tackled this problem by securing their products with tamper proof screws. And you know what? This solution works.

…But we don’t settle for solutions that just work.

The issue with tamper-proof screws is that once in a while, you need to remove your device to charge it. Even though SmartHalo has been designed to last a while between charges (up to three weeks of one hour per day trips), it would’ve been a nuisance to have to unscrew your device each time it needed a charge. It’s a somewhat awkward procedure: it takes more time than you’d like, screws can fall off, and doing it often creates pressure on the screw holes. SmartHalo is centered on simplicity, so we felt that this clashed too much with our global minimalist approach.

Our solution

After countless iterations, we ended up with a solution that works like magic. See for yourself:

Not sure what you just saw? Let’s recap: to remove SmartHalo from your handlebar to charge it, you just align your unique key on the device’s right side and voilà: it unlocks (the base always stays on your handlebar). To put it back on, stick the key on the side, and you clip the top part back on. Without the key, SmartHalo is virtually unstealable. With it, it takes literally two seconds to remove… Isn’t that awesome?

How does it work? Without going into too much detail, it relies on a system of surgically positioned magnets and pivots, giving each key its own signature. To make it more convenient, we’ve added a loop for you to add the key to your key fob.

A fully anti-theft solution

We think that this solution, combined with SmartHalo’s alarm system, truly protects bikes against the all too common bike theft problem. It’s a tough issue to tackle which is why we added three security layers to the product:

  • Our locking mechanism we just showed you that locks the device to your bike
  • Our alarm system that prevents any tampering with SmartHalo and protects your bike
  • Finally, should some kind of wizard find a way to steal your device (we highly doubt it), know that SmartHalo responds only to your phone; it’ll be completely useless to anyone else.

We hope you’re as stoked as we are regarding our anti-theft system. The next update will be about how to charge SmartHalo, so stay in touch!

 
 

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Say goodbye to bike theft

Some cool news to share today regarding SmartHalo’s alarm system. We’ve had to log in some overtime to reach our goal with this feature so we’re happy to finally show you the results.

Let’s recap quickly how our alarm works.

SmartHalo is equipped with an accelerometer that detects movement. When you aren’t on your bike (thus your phone’s Bluetooth is not in range), SmartHalo goes in defense mode: unwanted movement increases an alarm meter. This translates into the halo filling up in red. If the movement threshold is broken, the alarm goes off. We have set this threshold to prevent accidental triggering: bikes can normally fall or be bumped into. We wouldn’t want the alarm to go off every single time your bikes gets shaken less than a few seconds. Also: we’d rather scare off the thief with our warning countdown and not ring the alarm, rather than have an annoying alarm that always goes off (think car alarms).

How does the alarm get deactivated? By simply having your phone in your pocket since SmartHalo will always recognize you. In the odd chance that your phone’s out of battery, you can deactivate the alarm with your own unique tapcode that you’ve previously set up. Simply input it on SmartHalo’s touch surface.

What’s so hard about implementing an alarm system?

To put sound levels into context, let’s take a look at a decibel chart showing various sound levels and their real-life counterparts:

Decibel chart

From the get-go, we knew we wouldn’t reach a sound level as high as a 110dB car alarm, for obvious reasons: a car horn alone is bigger than a SmartHalo unit. For us, the ideal alarm had to be at least louder than street traffic (70dB). So a 80dB alarm sounded reasonable… We just had to find a way to make it happen.

As you might know, small speakers usually emit little sound. Considering SmartHalo is a small device, having a loud alarm was a real head-scratcher. Also, having a weather resistant case (which means as little openings as possible), yet wanting an hole for sound to travel was a bit counter-intuitive.

How did we do it?

To be honest, the first implementation of our alarm speaker led to disappointing results. We had trouble getting above the 60dB range. It worked, sure, but, as with all of SmartHalo’s features, we didn’t want to settle for “just okay”. As a matter of fact, we will always be ready to chip in a bit of extra time to make a feature stand out.

Inspecting a few portable alarm products led us to better understand the mechanics of sound enclosures. We were also able to keep the product weather-proof by lining the speaker’s opening with a goretex membrane: sounds passes through it but not water, hurray! Coupled with a custom designed piezo speaker that fits perfectly inside SmartHalo, we’re happy to announce our final alarm design reaches 90 to 107dB at a 10 cm distance as you can see in the video below (pro tip: turn the sound down!). Honestly, that thing screams, even at a distance. As a matter of fact, the whole office kind of resented the engineering team while they were doing their tests…

We hope you are as excited as we are for our alarm system! Next week we will finally reveal SmartHalo’s locking mechanism.

 

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LEDs talk about lights!

 

Since we have a thorough approach to hardware design, we enlisted an advanced optic lab in Canada to lend us a hand: Optech. With experience in fiber optics, sensors, lenses and much more, these guys know how to bend light at their will. Let’s take a look at our lighting goals and how we integrated our components to achieve the look and feel we wanted with SmartHalo.

Our interface has to be fluid and appear to be alive. To create our light halo, we placed 24 RGB LEDs on our circular printed circuit board. The issue with these LEDs is that they create luminous hot spots. You can clearly see the improvements with the simulations below before and after.

BeforeSimulations of the halo

After

Simulations of the halo

To counterbalance this and create a continuous light stream, Optech went though many design iterations to create the perfect diffuser which uses little domes that encapsulate each LED. Combined with our liquid animations, this gives our halo the smoothness it always deserved.

Casing and LEDs

When SmartHalo is off, it doesn’t even look like there is an interface. This isn’t a coincidence: we wanted SmartHalo’s design to be subtle to prevent attracting unwanted attention. Also, traditional LCD screens just didn’t look right to us. To accomplish this, we put a tinted lens on top of SmartHalo that lets light pass on one side only.

But the sun emits some prettttty strong light. This might seem of little relevance, but designing a bike product has to take this into account to make sure it’s interface is always visible, even with a high noon sun down in Mexico. So, how did we tackle this challenge? By giving our top lens a matte finish that doesn’t reflect light.

Testing our LEDs

 

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