Riding a bicycle in a big city like London can be fun and relaxing at the same time? Yes, this is possible! The solution lies in the innovation by Sasha Afanasieva and Alessio Nunzi, Blubel – a smart bicycle bell that guides cyclists simply and intuitively using a mix of sounds and lights.
The two ESA Special Prize winners of the European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC) 2016 had a great idea to avoid busy roads on their way through the bustling city: a bell which combines satellite navigation data with the rich source of experience of the cycling community.
Learn more about the future-oriented product which aims at improving the lives of all road users by tracking and sharing potential risks. Discover the success story with all its challenges and visions in our interview with Blubel’s CEO Sasha Afanasieva.
6 Questions to Blubel
AZO: Please give us a sneak peek of your product and the team behind it.
Blubel is satellite navigation (sat nav) in a bicycle bell that empowers the cycling community to report potential hazards, simply by ringing the bell. A supporting mobile app uses the data to find the safest, quietest routes. There is no longer the need to mount, or follow directions from a phone on the handlebars, figure out maps or look out for street names – which can be very distracting and dangerous when cycling. Instead, Blubel’s lights interface shows upcoming turns and the direction of the final destination, so the cyclist never loses their bearings. Blubel detects when the cyclist rings the bell in case of dangers, such as roadworks. Furthermore, it identifies which routes the cyclist prefers and other data to improve Blubel’s route calculation for the entire community. Think of a bicycle bell with social navigation that taps into the wealth of knowledge of the cycling community. That is our innovative product.
AZO: What was your company’s biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenge was to develop a navigation system that would be easy and intuitive to use while riding a bike in a hectic city. We prototyped and tested Blubel in different cities, but mostly in London, to address this challenge head on. We ensured that Blubel’s minimalistic design was not distracting, given how cycling on the busy streets can be a sensory overload! At the same time, the navigation interface had to provide relevant information for the user to navigate the complex road layouts without getting lost. We applied this design thinking across both the development of the hardware device and the smartphone app.
AZO: Can you explain the three main ingredients of your recipe for success?
Firstly, we wanted to make the community at the heart of our product. From the start, Blubel was not just about a sat nav device, but about using the collective intelligence of the cycling community to find quieter and safer routes.
Secondly, we are combining smart tech with slick product design. We wanted Blubel to have all the sophisticated technology inside, without it looking like an intimidating to use gadget. That’s why its interface is simple and organic, particularly in its gestures and interactions with the user.
Thirdly, we want it to be a bridge between the cycling community and other road users and city planners. We believe it is this collaboration that will make cities better.
AZO: What do you expect from the ESNC? How did the competition and its network help you to kick-start your business case?
The competition has been fantastic in getting the word out about what we’re developing. It was also a great opportunity to meet many fellow entrepreneurs working on diverse applications: it’s really helpful to engage in the startup ecosystem, learning from and supporting each other. We have also received support from some of the ESNC sponsors, which has been tremendously helpful.
AZO: Let’s reach for the stars – what is going to happen in your company’s future?
Our goal is to continue to expand our community across the world. We also want to work with urban designers and city planners and use the insights from our cycling community to improve the cycling infrastructure. Building the cycling movement globally can have a huge impact: not only will it make towns and cities less polluted and congested, but also improve the health and wellbeing of the citizens.
AZO: Anything else you want to share with us?
Blubel is available for pre-order on the website at 40% discount to the retail price, to be delivered early this Spring. You can also follow the development of the project through Facebook (facebook.com/blubelco), Twitter (twitter.com/blubelco) and Instagram (instagram.com/blubelco).
About the European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC)
The ESNC’s annual search for new services, products, and business innovations is designed to encourage the use of satellite navigation in everyday life. Over the past decade, it has evolved into the leading innovation competition comprising partner regions worldwide, the largest space-related incubation network and the most relevant European GNSS stakeholders. Pre-register now for the submission phase from 1 April – 30 June.