International GPS specialist Garmin has acquired South African technology company iKubu, which is developing a radar system that alerts cyclists of what’s happening around them on the road. The value of the deal has not been disclosed.
The Stellenbosch-based start-up, which specialises in radar and computer vision technology, was in the final stages of developing its bike-mounted radar, called Backtracker, which alerts cyclists of approaching vehicles.
“Garmin is a technological leader among cyclists, and we are looking forward to integrating our technology and expertise into iKubu’s outstanding products,” Garmin said in a statement.
“iKubu was in the final stages of developing the Backtracker low-energy bike radar, a device that provides unparalleled situational awareness by giving the cyclist the speed and distance of vehicles that are approaching from behind,” it said.
“The road is scanned by a rear-facing radar module that also doubles as a dynamically flashing caution light, and the information is sent wirelessly to a handlebar-mounted head unit.”
Garmin CEO Cliff Pemble said iKubu had found a way to implement short-range radar into a low-power system that addresses a common concern among cyclists — identifying potential hazards that are approaching them from behind.
Garmin is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York and has a market capitalisation of US$10bn.
Most of the employees of iKubu will become employees of Garmin’s existing subsidiary in South Africa and will continue to operate primarily as a research and development centre based in Stellenbosch, Garmin said.
iKubu was founded in 2006 by business partners Franz Struwig and Denho Geldenhuys, who had studied engineering together at the University of Pretoria. Two years later, they headhunted another fellow Tukkies engineering student, Nolan van Heerden, who was the top performer in their class and is iKubu’s “radar guru”.
The idea for Backtracker was born in 2010 when the team wanted a technology solution to help reduce the risk associated with cycling in traffic, Struwig told TechCentral in an interview in September 2014. As a group of avid cyclists, the team had a vested interest in road safety, he said.
Backtracker is a bike-mounted radar kit that consists of two parts. The first part, the radar, is mounted on the back of the bike, while the second, a notification unit, is fitted to the handlebars.
The rear-facing radar doubles as a warning light for motorists. The radar communicates with the handlebar indicator unit. The indicator then displays the proximity of vehicles behind the cyclist using a series of LEDs, indicating their movement as they near his or her position.
The technology only detects traffic behind the cyclist and won’t pick up vehicles driving in the opposite direction.
Backtracker is able to interpret the speed and acceleration of vehicles approaching from the rear at a distance of up to 140m.
“The radar technology is like a sixth sense for cyclists, especially in low visibility conditions such as rain and fog and works well in early morning and late afternoons,” Struwig said.
iKubu spent a year trying to secure South African and international investors for Backtracker. Instead, they decided to take the product to market on their own through a successful crowdfunding campaign. They’ll now do that internationally through Garmin. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media