This Compass Is Made for Geographically Challenged Cyclists
There’s no shortage of bicycle navigation devices out there. Some are fancy ones, laden with digital bells and whistles. Others are spartan, and use little more than small LED lights to guide you on your way. Most, though, share one feature: they provide you with directions, turn after turn after turn.
BeeLine is a new navigation device that doesn’t give you directions so much as it points you in the right direction. The circular gadget looks a bit like a watch, but behaves like a compass: Plug your final destination into the BeeLine app, which pairs with Google Maps, and an arrow will appear on BeeLine’s screen. The device also tells you your distance from your destination—not as calculated by some street-mapping algorithm, but as the crow flies. That’s the thing about BeeLine: It won’t give you turn-by-turn instructions, but turn your handlebars and the arrow will stay fixed on your destination. To get where you’re going, just head in the general direction of the arrow and watch the remaining distance dwindle.
The BeeLine team calls this mode of travel “fuzzy navigation,” and it’s catered toward a breed of cyclist that Jon Marshall, design director at creative consultancy MAP, dubs “normal bicycle riders.” A “normal” cyclist, in this instance, is an urban rider who relies on his bicycle to commute to work, get to meetings, and run a few errands around town. Odds are these riders don’t need directions more than a few times a week, and even when they do, they’re probably at least somewhat familiar with the area in which they’re riding. Maybe they even have favorite streets, or alleyways. Or maybe they’d prefer to go down streets they haven’t traveled on before. Either way, the underpinning idea to BeeLine is less information, more freedom.
“We’ve deliberately avoided turn by turn navigation because we felt like it’s covered by other devices,” says Marshall, who led the design on BeeLine (£60, or about $90) and has worked on products like the Tritensil spork and the $99 Kano computer in the past. Take a quick survey of the market and you’ll see he’s right. Other handlebar-mounted navigation devices (like the Hammerhead, or the more recent SmartHalo) tout features like crowdsourced routes and security alerts. Marshall, along with Mark Jenner and Tom Putnam, who invented the device, stripped all that out of BeeLine’s interface. Instead, it’s a slick, one-inch e-paper, overlaid atop three sensors (a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a magnetometer), a Bluetooth chip, and a battery. A backlight illuminates the screen at night, and the maps allow for cyclists to click on midway points, “so in a city like London with a river, you can say I want to go via this bridge,” Marshall says. All in all, “it’s pretty simple.”
There’s a safety benefit here, as well: by displaying little more than a white arrow against a black screen, BeeLine makes it easy for riders to steal quick glances at the screen and keep their eyes on the road ahead. More philosophically, minimalism like this allows for human intelligence to play a role again—something that’s gone missing from our Google Maps-directed world. “Using Google Maps is really brilliant, but when you’re a cyclist you can see things the maps don’t know about,” Marshall says. “You might see there’s a massive traffic jam ahead take a chance and just take a left hand turn. You can sort of beat the official maps turn by turn.”
That’s when BeeLine is turned on. When it’s off, its stretchy silicone band and the plastic bezel that keeps the screen mounted in place wrap around to turn into a tiny case for the device, which can be used as a keychain. It’s a hardware solution Marshall worked out to ensure BeeLine would fit onto any bike, and therefore “appeal to all tribes of cyclists.”
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