A bright idea to help bike riders be seen
Wouter Walmink never considered wearing a bicycle helmet until he moved to Melbourne a year ago.
But after pedalling through the city's hectic streets, the Dutch designer realised he was going to need a helmet - so he set about making a better one.
The result is the LumaHelm, a flashing headpiece with 104 multicoloured LED lights that illuminate like indicators when a cyclist tilts the head left or right.
"One of the things we wanted to do was make a helmet that was more exciting to look at," the 28-year-old says. "We saw an opportunity where we thought no one had seen it before."
The LumaHelm is based on a standard helmet fitted with lights powered by AA batteries and a sensor that measures movement of the cyclist's head.
An Arduino microcontroller placed in the cyclist's pocket translates those movements into light patterns.
As well as lighting up when a cyclist turns, the helmet, which meets Australian safety standards, lights up at the back when a cyclist brakes.
Mr Walmink says his invention could improve cyclist safety. "I wanted to make people more visible. I have been cycling around a little bit with this helmet and people definitely notice you coming," he says.
It could also signal the end of cyclists poking out their hands as indicators. "There's a reason why cars have blinkers," Mr Walmink says . "Sticking out your hand on a bike is not the clearest way to communicate that you're turning. The indicator and braking functions communicate information that makes the situation safer."
Mr Walmink describes himself as an interaction designer, his work focusing on the way humans interact with digital products. Instead of concentrating on the way a product looks, he is more concerned with behaviour.
"An interaction designer creates the interaction that happens between a person and an object," he says. "You design something abstract that becomes physical."
Mr Walmink has also created software that lets people design their own products ranging from lamps to wallpapers. He has also created a digital sword fighting game.
Mr Walmink says the helmet has other uses and could help workers communicate on noisy construction sites. It could also help rock climbers communicate as they are scaling cliffs.
Mr Walmink first started tinkering with bicycle helmets last November at RMIT's Exertion Games Lab as part of a project with researchers Florian "Floyd" Mueller and Alan Chatham.
An earlier prototype displayed a cyclist's heart rate on an iPod touch fixed to the back of the helmet
The group are now talking about different uses for the helmet, but say they have no intention of manufacturing it. "While we have ideas about what we can do there are so many things we can't foresee. This is a tool to get people thinking. We don't want to make money, we want to inspire."