Technology Developed by HLRS Scientist Wins German Cycling Award

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Photo courtesy of OpenBikeSensor.

OpenBikeSensor uses an open source, citizen science approach to improve safety for cyclists on city streets.

OpenBikeSensor, a technology initiated by research scientist Thomas Obst of the High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS), has been named a winner of the 2022 German Cycling Award. Sharing first place in the Service & Communication category, OpenBikeSensor offers a low-cost, easily reproducible approach for making cities safer for cyclists.

OpenBikeSensor (OBS) is a bicycle-mounted device that uses GPS to continuously track a cyclist's location and his or her distance from nearby hazards such as moving cars. Data from these measurements can be uploaded to a community portal, where software integrates feedback from many contributors to produce a data-based map of cycling routes through a city. This citizen science approach reveals locations where the typical distance between cyclists and cars is dangerously small, providing information that cycling advocates and city planners can use to identify spots where additional barriers, signage, or road markings are needed to make cycling safe.

OpenBikeSensor shared the first place award with SimRa, a smartphone app developed at TU-Berlin that recognizes dangerous situations while cycling. The two projects are already collaborating on efforts to improve cycling safety using community- and data-based methods.

"I began developing OpenBikeSensor in my spare time as a part of my volunteer work with Zweirat Stuttgart (a community advocacy group for cyclists in the city)," Obst explained.  "Together with Uwe Wössner and the HLRS visualization department, however, it has been exciting to continue developing the technology, and it has become a very useful tool in the context of our project Cape Reviso." In addition to improving the OpenBikeSensor hardware in the context of Cape Reviso, HLRS also hosted the initial OBS data portal.

In Cape Reviso, HLRS is developing new research methods that could help to reduce stress between cyclists and pedestrians in cities. Using OpenBikeSensor alongside technologies such as 3D scanning, machine learning, virtual reality, and "urban emotions" apps for collecting public feedback, Cape Reviso is demonstrating how urban digital twins could help to improve highly trafficked urban locations. The approach will enable scientists to simulate interventions in public spaces in virtual reality before testing them in the real locations. As is the case with OpenBikeSensor, the ultimate goal of Cape Reviso is to help improve sustainability in cities by giving city planners science-based tools for making cycling and walking safer and more attractive.

OpenBikeSensor is conceived as an open source project, and interest has been growing across Germany to such an extent that last fall Obst and other colleagues founded a nonprofit organization to connect and support the new community. Plans for OpenBikeSensor, including the complete source code, are available on the club's website, making it possible for anyone with some basic programming and electronics knowledge to build his or her own kit. Already, groups in other cities — including Hanover, Darmstadt, and Constance — have begun using OpenBikeSensor to support local initiatives to improve bicycle infrastructure.

About the German Cycling Prize

The German Cycling Prize is awarded annually to recognize projects that are improving conditions for cyclists. It is an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure and the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle-friendly Cities, Townships and Districts in North Rhine Westphalia. The competition is also supported by the Zweirad-Industrie-Verband e.V. and the Verbund Service und Fahrrad e.V. Winners of this year's prize were announced on February 17, 2022.

About Cape Reviso

Cape Reviso is a collaboration involving HLRS, the ADFC (German Cycling Club), and the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology. It is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, and a participant in the development of Germany's National Cycling Plan.

Christopher Williams