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Research project SimRa enters beta test phase

From 2017 to 2018, the number of cyclists killed on Berlin’s roads increased from nine to eleven. Passionate cyclist Professor Dr. David Bermbach (ECDF / TU Berlin) has set himself the goal of making cycling safer. To this end, in the summer of 2018, he launched the research project “SimRa – Safety in Bicycle Traffic”. This involves the development of a smartphone app to collect data on near crashes. The project has now entered its beta test phase.

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In your SimRa project you focus on recording “near crashes”. Why is that?
Because it’s very difficult to get an overview of danger spots for cyclists on the roads since accident statistics don’t record “near-crashes”. Unlike cars, bicycles aren’t usually equipped with sensors that could provide such data. For this reason, we collect – in a way that’s compatible with data protection and privacy – data on where in the city cyclists face the greatest dangers. We want to know the nature of these dangers, and whether they’re more likely to occur at particular times or places; we also want to know which routes are used by the most cyclists.

How do you collect this data?
We’ve developed a smartphone app that tracks cycle routes by using GPS data. It uses acceleration sensors to identify hazardous situations – such as sudden braking, swerves or even falls. At the end of their journeys, users can categorize the hazardous situations that have been identified, as well as add hazardous situations that weren’t, and then release their information for upload to the project server.

This app has now entered its beta test phase. What have you found out so far?
Our beta testers are busy providing us with data, and the app is up and running in a remarkably stable way. The area we still need to work on is the algorithm for identifying hazardous situations. So far, in this regard, we’ve identified getting on and off bikes, and stopping, but we’re continuously improving our capacity to identify risk.

What happens after the beta test phase?
As of March, we want to go live and make the app available to the general public. If we stick to our current plans, we’ll launch the app simultaneously in Berlin and London. Other cities have already signaled their interest, too, but then we’d need someone on the ground to take on the responsibility and, for example, coordinate the evaluation of the data. As soon as the data starts coming in, we’ll start to evaluate it; we’re curious to see what it’ll tell us and we’ll definitely be using it to approach the responsible traffic planners.

The project is funded by TU Berlin’s Citizen Science Initiative. How can the public participate?
We’ve already recruited a small, solid group of cyclists for the beta tests. As soon as we go live, anyone owning a smartphone with Android 6.0 or higher can participate in the data collection. We’re also envisioning joint workshops with citizens to evaluate the data, but that’s a little further down the line.

If you are interested in this research project, or would like to participate, please sign up for the newsletter mailing list. (sim)