In 17+ years of cab driving I have covered almost a million miles in Chicago – and I really love my job. Every customer is unique, and hearing their stories makes my job a lot of fun. When all goes well, traffic lights turn green for me and the streets are empty. But part of the fun is also responding to the unexpected, interacting with other drivers, and making it all go smoothly. Of course that’s not always how it works and since Chicago is trying to become a greener and more bicycle-friendly city, the chaos has unfortunately become worse. For some reason, taxis and bicycles don’t seem to mix. Their owners get into arguments and accidents, which is both sad and dangerous for all involved. In the end, big city traffic can only work if everyone gets along.

Rashid Temuri asks:
How can taxis and cyclists become better friends?

Trafo Pop answers:
We live in Berlin, a fantastic city that has changed quite dramatically in recent years. Today’s population tends to favor an environmentally conscious and sustainable lifestyle; younger people, especially, have embraced the good old bicycle and made biking emblematic of this new ecological awareness. Fixie riders, cargo bikers, couriers, and mothers with child carriers have taken to the streets where they mingle with traditional road users, many of which are taxis. Caught up in urban traffic, cyclists have to be especially cautious because they tend to be the weaker party. While we are agile and quick, we are also easily overlooked and have the most to lose in an accident. So, it would be a good idea to make ourselves more noticeable, allowing both cabbies and other drivers to spot us sooner and more clearly.

Illuminated jackets
Illuminated jackets allow both cabbies and other drivers to spot the cyclists sooner and more clearly

This is where our illuminated jackets come in: Equipped with up to 100 computer-controlled bright and flashing lights, which are visible from afar and especially at dusk, they are guaranteed to attract the attention of drivers. Each jacket features a small, Arduino-based computer that enables separate control of each lamp for bespoke effects. For example, the jacket could respond to a raised arm, indicating an imminent turn, with a luminous arrow on the rear LED display to show the direction the rider is about to take. Meanwhile, the featured acceleration and deceleration sensor might flash a red brake light to notify any drivers behind that he is about to slow down. And there is more: color-coded LEDs on the front of the jacket are connected to a compass to show the rider’s current direction. Right now, we are working on a wireless synching solution for multiple jackets, allowing an entire group of cyclists to form a larger display for an even bigger impact. With our wearable tech, we hope to make visibility-related accidents a thing of the past – and this should also make things easier for our taxi-driving friends.

Equipped with up to 100 lights
They are equipped with up to 100 computer-controlled bright and flashing lights

To showcase our latest and ongoing developments, we hold regular night rides, swarming out to light up the streets of Berlin. In the spirit of Steve Jobs’s maxim, “why join the Navy if you can be a pirate?”, we are a hackerspace on wheels, aiming to reclaim the streets. We often get a round of applause when we pass people on the roads! And this gives us something in common with taxi drivers: Our audience can be found on the streets and sidewalks of the city.

Working together simply makes sense: Taxi drivers could even offer special tours, taking their fares on a city-wide quest to find the Trafo Pop swarm, just like urban whale watching. So, let’s be buddies!

All photos, incl. the header image: Trafo Pop