California State University, Long Beach
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Bike Safety Illuminated

Published: August 18, 2014

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PHOTO COURTESY OF WESLEY WOELFEL
Team members (l-r) Channing Shattuck, Queendy Chan, Kendra Schmiedeberg, Brandon Ryan and Aaron Gray.

A team of five students from CSULB’s Industrial Design Program wrested a hard-won third place in the fifth annual 2013-14 Biomimicry Student Design Challenge held recently.

The team’s win was accompanied by a $500 award in competition with 198 entries from throughout the world. The third to be open to students from any institution worldwide, the 2013-14 Challenge focused on transportation. The students learned about biomimicry, a new discipline that studies nature’s best ideas then imitates these designs to solve human problems. They did so while studying in Design’s David Teubner’s 333A Industrial Design Methodology course and refined them for presentation in Design’s Wesley Woelfel’s 333B Industrial Design Methodology course.

The winning CSULB team of Channing Shattuck, Aaron Gray, Brandon Ryan, Kendra Schmiedeberg and Queendy Chan was recognized for their design “Vibrisee,” an illuminated safety system for bicyclists inspired by whiskers and bioluminescent aquatic organisms.

A tie for first place named teams from McGill University, Canada, and the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mexico.

By interviewing various members of the Long Beach bicycle community, the team determined three main concerns—communication of a bicyclist’s intentions, increased visibility both day and night and proper allocation of space when sharing the road. The luminescent tendrils exponentially increase visibility of the cyclists both day and night through a combination of both fluorescent bands and stripes of emitted light. The four whiskers can change their configuration, allowing the cyclists to signal their intentions. VibriSee also empowers cyclists with the ability to indicate their spatial zone by flaring their whiskers and flashing warning colors.

Each fall the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute facilitates a Biomimicry Student Design Challenge focused on a real-world problem. Aimed at college and university students, the Challenge invites students to work collaboratively in teams to apply biomimicry concepts and tools to arrive at a sustainable and innovative design solution.

Woelfel, a member of the Design Department since 2008, was pleased by his students’ success.

“Their achievement is absolutely remarkable,” he said. “They worked so hard on their projects. We really pushed them but in the end it paid off. What they’ve done is good for their resumes and good for the department.”

Teubner, who earned his B.S. degree in industrial design from CSULB in 1980 and joined the Design Department faculty in 1992, also applauded his student’s placement. “It seems like our students are winning a lot of awards these days,” he said. “This class has been the center of a lot of contests and they are winning all over the place. We don’t want to get used to that but it has been quite a ride, especially this year.”

Woelfel stressed the importance of the award’s international component. “This recognition is very important because the international nature of the competition underlined the quality of their project,” he said. “It demonstrates how strong it is, not just against local competition, but with everyone in the world. It has been a rigorous process for the students but it is a process that made the difference between an ordinary project and an extraordinary one.”

Teubner believes the students were aided in their success by their Long Beach location. “It was an advantage to compete in Long Beach,” he said. “The theme of last year’s competition was water and this year’s theme was transportation. The contest was specific in asking participants to study where they live. They were asked to try to solve problems that affected where they live and not the other side of the planet. We are close to water and Long Beach is a great inspiration for transportation. We have so many ways of getting around the city but there are challenges too. How could the students take inspiration from Long Beach with its nearby ocean and apply that the problems of getting to campus every day? It is an impressive context.”

Shattuck’s first reaction to his team’s success was shocked surprise. “When we heard our entry had made it into the top 10 semifinal’s round against over 100 teams from all across the world we were in disbelief,” said Shattuck, who is pursuing a B.S. degree in Industrial Design and will graduate in 2015. “Getting the second notification that we had won third place in the second round of voting, we were absolutely elated. It’s an incredible feeling of validation for one’s design process.”

The team’s research began from the ground up. “We went around Long Beach by bus, car, bike and foot for a few days just to take notes,” Shattuck said. “We found that Long Beach prides itself on being ‘The Most Bicycle Friendly City in America’ so, being bicycle commuters ourselves, it was the perfect match. As a team, we got together and brainstormed a few potential directions on where we could go—from infrastructure modifications to bicycle accessories—but It wasn’t until we spent a week visiting various biomes (think Bolsa Chica Interpretive Center and the Aquarium of the Pacific) that we found the perfect inspiration; the ctenophore (an iridescent jellyfish). The idea of making glowing tendrils stream off of a moving bike in a comet-like manner sold it for us. The whisker component—being able to signal intentions—became our justification for the concept. But I can’t deny it, we basically loved the idea of turning bikes into Tron light cycles.”

Gray was pleased by the team’s win. “There were a lot of entries so we are excited to be one of the recognized groups,” said Gray who is on his way to B.S. degree in Industrial Design by May 2015. “VibriSee was probably recognized partly because bike commuting is very common in other cities and other parts of the world but not in Los Angeles. Bike riding can be dangerous and increasingly so in areas where it lacks respect by drivers.”

The key to VibriSee is safety, Gray believes. “VibriSee is a bicycle safety device that helps street bikers maintain a safe perimeter during their commute,” he explained. “The whiskers, in a nutshell, were designed to be highly visible by drivers and increase the bike riders’ road presence. I believe that this product could raise public awareness and respect for bicycle commuters in areas like Long Beach and Los Angeles where we are starting to see a growing number of people who ride bikes to work.”

Chan was surprised and excited when she heard about CSULB’s distinction. “I could not believe it as there were over 100 entries from around the world,” said Chan who is working toward B.S. degree in Industrial Design by 2015.

She feels one reason for the project’s recognition is the way the project seeks to take road safety to the next level. “It not only creates a safer environment for cyclists but also for cars,” she said. “We see VibriSee as having the potential to make bicycling safer so that riding a bicycle would become popular when it comes to commuting. A few of our group mates commute with bikes, therefore, we recognized the problem in our city, Long Beach. We began by observing animals at local animal shelters, as well as bioluminescence at aquarium. After our observations and some research, we found whiskers are very useful for animals to move around. Then we start thinking, what if we had ‘whiskers’ too?”

Woelfel knows that nothing succeeds like success. “This kind of win gives the students the experience of success,” he said. “They come to understand how to win. The students can talk to past winners and get tips from them. Success like this benefits every part of the Design Department from industrial design to interior design as well as the new Bachelor of Arts in Design degree. The students now have the ability to tweak their projects to make them better, and we, as faculty, have the opportunity adjust our own methods and pedagogy for stronger outcomes.”

Teubner sees success leading to more success. “The latest win shows how the department keeps raising the bar for student achievement,” he said. “The department’s reputation is boosted by student success and the Duncan Anderson Design Lecture Series. We are getting to be known all over the world for both. Now, the world knows CSULB has amazingly talented students. We are thinking globally, not locally. The more we do it, the better we become.”