Team SafeTandem, comprising of NTU students Ian Ng and Celia Chandra, represented Singapore in the Top 40 finals for Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2021
In 2019 alone, a total of 417 road accidents involving cyclists took place in Singapore over an 11-month period – amounting to more than one accident a day, on average.
For 27-year-old student Ian Ng Cheong Sian, this threat was all too real, given that he had experienced his fair share of falls and near-miss accidents as a cyclist himself. After reading the news about a collision between a 58-year-old female cyclist and an e-scooter rider in September last year, Ian knew that there was a pressing need to empower cyclists to ride safely.
The Nanyang Technological University student found a likeminded partner in his School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering course mate Celia Claresta Chandra, 20-year-old, who – in contrast – was hesitant to pick up cycling given the high accident rate. Leveraging Ian’s technology skills and past entrepreneurship experiences, as well as Celia’s product management and operations expertise, the pair joined forces as Team SafeTandem, and sought to develop a solution with a simple objective: to make cycling safer and more accessible to all.
Using Azure machine learning to improve spatial awareness for cyclists
There are many factors that can cause a cycling-related accident, such as speeding or meeting with an irresponsible driver. But Team SafeTandem observed that a bulk of road accidents involving cyclists all had one common factor: a lack of spatial awareness.
With this core problem in mind, the team explored ways that advanced technologies like computer vision could help a cyclist increase his or her spatial awareness while riding. Together, Ian and Celia developed SafeTandem – a mobile solution powered by Microsoft Azure, which analyses real-time video to detect potential accidents and increase a cyclist’s awareness of his or her surroundings through visual, audio, and haptic alerts and a pedestrian’s awareness through alerts from the cyclists’ devices.
Sample app interface of SafeTandem, an app which uses machine learning to detect obstacles and track the cyclist’s travelling speed
Despite having no prior experience with machine learning, the team learnt to build the app using intelligent cloud software like Azure App Service, Azure Cosmos DB and Azure Maps.
“We spent a lot of time reading online guides and learning from our friends on how to use the various technologies required to develop our app. It definitely helped that the Azure platform and tools are intuitive, and flex to the needs of users with varying levels of tech expertise,” said Ian.
When downloaded to one’s mobile, SafeTandem activates the phone’s camera to monitor the cyclist’s surroundings and relies on the device’s flashlight feature and phone speaker to deliver light and sound alerts, respectively. With machine learning integrated into the app, SafeTandem can also detect obstacles and track the speed at which the cyclist is travelling – whether indoors or outdoors.
Users can simply mount their mobile phones on their bicycle handlebar and launch the SafeTandem app while cycling in order to increase their spatial awareness and ride in a safer manner. In the event of an accident, SafeTandem also serves as a dashcam video recorder to provide cyclists with video evidence of the incident.
Going beyond safety to inclusivity
In the process of building their app, Team SafeTandem engaged directly with about 50 members of the cycling community, aged 20-50 years old, to gather insights from cyclists themselves. Through their outreach, Ian and Celia discovered that their app could also evolve into a meaningful solution for persons with disabilities, specifically those who were deaf and hard of hearing.
“We worked with the Nanyang Technological University Welfare Services Club (WSC) Deaf Community to conduct an initial survey among those who are deaf and hard of hearing, and quickly realized that there were many cyclists in this community. This sparked an idea to enhance our app with haptic alerts so that our solution can be made more accessible, and we can empower everyone to cycle safely and confidently,” said Ian.
With haptic alerts installed, cyclists can also rely on vibration alerts that can be felt on the handlebar whenever SafeTandem detects incoming pedestrians, vehicles, or other personal mobility devices. This feature can alert those who may not be able to hear cyclist bells or oncoming traffic and allow them to react accordingly, hence minimizing accident risks.
Riding into the Top 40 at Imagine Cup 2021
With the solution they developed, Team SafeTandem was shortlisted as a Top 40 finalist team in Imagine Cup 2021, Microsoft’s annual competition for student innovators across the globe to showcase their creativity, passion and purpose for tackling social issues with technology.
Team SafeTandem was one of the four teams to represent Singapore at this global virtual competition, competing against tens of thousands of teams from 163 countries. This marked a huge milestone for the team in their journey to incite change with technology for a better future for themselves, their communities and the nation – starting with increasing cyclist safety and promoting inclusivity.
“I heard about Imagine Cup through our university and always wanted to participate. Our team saw a growing issue of increased cycling-related accidents with no dedicated solution in the market to protect cyclists and enhance the safety of the people around them. The competition allows us to challenge ourselves to bring to life a solution like SafeTandem and create something tangible and beneficial for members of the cycling community,” added Celia.
The road ahead for SafeTandem
Beyond Imagine Cup, Ian and Celia have plans to go the distance with SafeTandem. In addition to making the app available to the general public in late June this year, the team also hopes to launch a startup focused on enhancing their solution to benefit the wider community. Their plans include the development of an open application programming interface (API) platform – a software that allows two applications to talk to each other – to integrate SafeTandem with other bicycle hardware manufacturers to create a safer cycling ecosystem. Ian and Celia also hope to create a hardware device, powered by SafeTandem, to make cycling more accessible and convenient for food delivery riders as well as the deaf and hard of hearing community.
And for a non-cyclist like Celia, this solution may just give her the confidence to hop on a bike and learn cycling herself – knowing that an app like SafeTandem can help make cycling a safer experience for all.
Held annually since 2003, the Microsoft Imagine Cup is the world’s premier student technology competition, affectionately known by participants as the “Olympics of student technology competitions”. This year’s Imagine Cup encouraged participants to “Dream it. Build it. Live it” in order to create applications that shape how individuals live, work and play and through their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology. For more information about Imagine Cup, please visit https://www.imaginecup.com/.