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Hands-on with See.Sense ICON Smart Bike Lights

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(Before we begin, I should note upfront that the Kickstarter campaign for this project ends in about 2 days.  So, if you’re thinking of reading this post this weekend, you’ll have missed the boat.  That delay in posting is totally my fault in just getting swamped the last few weeks.  Nonetheless, it’s cool stuff and I wanted to get it out before the campaign closes.)

Back about three weeks ago a small Irish company, See.Sense, launched their second Kickstarter project focused on lights.  Their first Kickstarter project was rather successful, pulling in some 500+ backers for their first smart bike light.  That rear taillight would react to road and environmental conditions – such as increasing brightness in darker area, or flashing more quickly as cars approached.

Their second product is also off to a solid launch (already surpassing funding goals) and builds upon the first generation unit with new functions. Most notably however, it adds in a slew of smartphone integrated features.  Let’s dive into it.

Connected Features:

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They sent over a unit a few weeks ago to toy with.  It’s a prototype unit, but it’s still pretty solid from a manufacturing standpoint (note: the swanky green USB cable is not what the final unit will come with).  It’s really more the app pieces that are still being fleshed out development-wise.  So some of them I was able to try out, but many of them are being added as we speak.  Still, for a Kickstarter project it’s well ahead of where most companies tend to be.  Plus, it’s re-assuring that they’ve been around the block doing this once before.

The unit includes a bunch of core features, which the company handily attached a nifty icon to each one.  So rather than re-invent that (bike) wheel, I’m going to use their graph:

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Some of these features are ones that fall into the ‘duh’ category, for example:

Water Sealed: Sure, that’s obvious enough. I’d hope so (and certainly expect so from a company in the UK)
Recharge via USB: Yup, also the norm today in bike lights.  However, 15 hours is nothing to sneeze at.  Solid number there.
Download Updates: This is the norm for any connected bike light these days, but in the grand scheme of regular bike lights globally – it’s pretty rare.

Then we’ve got what are more core illumination functions, similar to what we saw in their past products:

Daylight Visible: This is notable because not all bike lights are great during daylight (while still being awesome at night)
See & Be Seen: This simply means that it splits up into two beams.  One that is focused illuminating just what you need to see on the ground in front of you, while another one is wider so that cars, moose, and camels can see you coming.
Intelligent Sensor: This is really their secret ingredient in their first-gen lights, in terms of reacting to the environment.  This means that it knows when you’re going through a tunnel during the daytime, and responds accordingly to increase brightness.  Or that as it detects cars approaching, it increases flashing to attract attention.  In addition, it reacts when you approach a junction or roundabout by flashing brighter and faster as well (the same is true when you brake).

From a light brightness standpoint the company upped the lumens on both front and rear lights with the Icon series.  They’ve also slightly split the product into two tiers, an Icon and Icon+ line, which simply has more lumens.

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The lights themselves look nearly identical when powered off (however, new color gaskets on the most recent units now make it much easier):

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However once turned on, it’s quite apparent who’s who.

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From a mounting perspective you’ll use a nifty little industrial strength rubber mount system, sorta like the Cycliq Fly6 system.  It works mostly well and allows you to mount it easily to front or rear locales.  Also included in one of the Kickstarter pledge levels is an aero seatpost mount.

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The only slight downside I found was mounting it on the front of one of my bikes basically put it right behind all the cabling, so I had to go with the sideways/horizontal orientation, which then resulted in the beams being a little wonky.

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Btw, here’s another shot with the brightness turned all the way up:

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But what about the connected features?  That’s honestly why I’m interested – and what’s new about these lights compared to past units.  First up is that the lights connect to your Smartphone via Bluetooth Smart.  On their provided app (iOS & Android) you can then search for your lights and save them to the app.  You can see that below:

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Here’s a look at the firmware update capabilities – note of course this will look more polished, but was able to demonstrate the functionality.

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Once connected to the app you can check status such as battery level or changing modes (i.e. flashing to constant).  Additionally, you can control any of the lights (simple on and off), as well as have the lights automatically turn off when you stray more than 3 meters from your bike.  Hopefully that’s simply because you got off your bike, and not because you flew over the railing of a ditch and are now down an embankment somewhere.  Still, at least the bike is saving energy…

On the bright side (get it, bright?), if you do fly over that ledge, the app on the phone (hopefully still in your back pocket) will notify emergency contacts automatically for you.  We’ve seen a few implementations of this from a variety of companies over the past few years, such as ICE DOT, Garmin and others.

Building on that connectivity between the lights and the phone is the ability to have the lights act like a security system for your bike.

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The unit can be enabled into a alarmed mode that will cause your phone to crap itself with loud noises if the bike goes out of range or is moved (uses accelerometers).  Or, you just might crap yourself from the sounds.  Seriously, it’s astoundingly loud.

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Now the limitation here is that the connectivity is over Bluetooth Smart, and not via 3G, WiFi or anything else longer range.  That means this is basically limited to a café type scenario, and not a downtown office building.  But it did work reasonably well.  I tested it at the DCR/Bertie’s Cake Studio and was able to essentially leave the bike outside on a pole and it didn’t lose contact within that 30m from the bike through walls/glass/etc…

Obviously you’d want to still lock your bike, but the core benefit here is that the motion sensing will alert you if something is rotten in Denmark.

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Lastly, some of the pieces they want to enable aren’t yet visible today – and frankly won’t ever be visible to you as an end user.  Rather, they want to assist local cities in mapping out road conditions for cyclists.  We’ve seen Strava start to do this with their local government program to provide bulk cycle-route data.  But with ICON, they’re looking to give more specific feedback on road quality.  By leveraging the accelerometer sensor data and merging that with GPS data from your smartphone, they can pin-point potholes and start to develop maps of which roads might need some tender loving care.  You can of course opt out of this program too, though doing so is bad karma for finding yourself in a pothole the next day.

Initial Thoughts:

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Overall, I’m impressed – it’s got cool features and I was surprised with how well the theft pieces worked so far (not everything is done there yet).  But the range was far better than I expected.

I think their challenge on the municipality data sourcing side will be just getting enough people in a city to matter.  For major cities they might, but for these sort of metrics it’s really about vast user counts.

Additionally, right now they’ve got Bluetooth Smart support to phones – but if I were them I’d cash in on the new Edge 520/1000 (and soon Edge 510/810) support for ANT+ lights.  By doing so they’d be able to claim integration with the most popular bike computers out there today, and probably ride that wave a bit.  This would put them in the same group as Garmin’s Varia lights, as well as Bontrager’s Flare lights – but with the leg-up of being Bluetooth Smart connected.  It’s possible their existing chipsets may already support ANT+ with a simple firmware update.

But as I said – overall it’s cool stuff.  And I’m happy to see they’re once again manufacturing locally (in Northern Ireland), and the fact that this isn’t their first BBQ means that we’ll likely see them hit their claimed timelines.  Especially since the unit they sent to me weeks ago is surprisingly far along.  And of course, remember the campaign ends in two days.

With that – thanks for reading!

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56 Comments

  1. Harriet

    Hi Ray,

    Thanks for the heads up. Another major issue that I see with the theft alert is if you do a lot of cycling in a major city (I’m in London), and use proper locks, the risk of your lights getting stolen if you leave them on the bike is far higher than the risk of your bike being stolen. Presumably for recharging purposes these lights are easily detachable. I understand that these are best for a cafe-type situation, but it does seem to limit the use quite a bit.

  2. Marc Klein

    Like the light, but is there anything out there that actually acts like a brake light when you slow down, meaning gets brighter with deceleration, hence car lights? I know they some that auto on and off with motion but being able to slow down in the group in the morning without screaming “slowing” would be really cool.

    • Auke

      Lupine Rotlicht acts as brake light. This unit will increase brightness when you decelerate.

    • Rouleur

      The See.Sense original model increases it’s brightness and flashing intensity as you slow down so presume this one will do the same.

    • Changren Yong

      In theory, the accelerometer-based brake light feature in the Lupine Rotlicht works well. But out in the real world, it does not work all that great.

      The brake light feature has three sensitivity settings. At the lowest setting, the brake light (the tail light becomes a solid bright light) does not get triggered unless you are doing really hard stop. The medium sensitivity setting is slightly more sensitive but unfortunately, riding over bumps, tree roots and potholes also trigger the brake light. The highest sensitivity setting is way too sensitive for normal use. Unless you live in an area with buttery smooth roads, uneven surface will trigger the brake light and this will probably confuse the hell out of whoever is behind you.

    • VelocityLight.com. Pretty cool, and “in your face” to your fellow bikers (it shows your speed to those behind you, as in “try and catch me sucker”).

    • goeieio

      The lights from revolights.com claim to do exactly that. (The rear light functions as a brake light, by using the accelerometer to detect that you’re slowing down.)

  3. Marcel

    Sorry, I don’t see the point:
    – as Harriet said, they’re likely to get stolen quickly. At 74 pounds for early birds, it’s an expensive risk to take, leaving them on your bike, so I’d take them off, meaning the theft warning is useless for me
    – if ‘for most users’ charging is ‘only’ needed once a week, that is still a lot more than how often you have to replace batteries in regular bike lights. So it’s not very eco-friendly, it’s yet another device to charge.
    – adjusting the brightness of my bike lights on my phone? Why??
    – rapid blinking or added visibility depending on situation seems nice, but if I just get a really bright, fast blinking light, it doesn’t have to be connected or intelligent.

    All in all, I’d say it is just a gadget and one we can do without. Just my 2 cents, of course.

    • If you’ve got a bike light that you stick batteries in and forget about it for weeks/months, it’s likely not very bright/visible. That’s the point of re-chargeable units – to increase power to provide more light. Thus, using rechargeable is far more eco-friendly than using throw-away batteries.

      As for connectivity, it’s trivial on battery demands. They use BLE, so a typical BLE sensor can run for about 18-24 months on the battery output of a coin cell battery (CR2032), which isn’t even a rounding error on the battery in this unit.

      Now, as for changing lights from the phone – yes, that’s not terribly useful on the bike. It’s more about making it easy to specify desired levels for later. As for blinking bright all the time, again, see the first point on battery. If you reduce brightness when nothing is around, then you save battery. If you have a light that doesn’t need much charging, then it’s honestly probably not super visible to begin with.

    • Sébastien Gagné

      I currently own the Original See.Sense. While it’s a good light, changing the settings are such a pain in the ass (0 buttons) : you have to tilt everyway and count flashes. Having the options on the phone is a good idea and keeps the light simple (horray they added a Power Button !!)

    • SuperQ

      My favorite light is the planet bike superflash. 100 hours on 2x AAA. This means I typically needed new batteries once a year for my typical 20min rides home from work at night. The plus side to AAA batteries is the very low self-discharge rate.

      link to ecom1.planetbike.com

      These days I use knog blinder front/rear lights, since they’re much more fashionable on my main commuter bike. Since I live in Germany, I use steady mode (flashing is technically not allowed here). In steady mode the knog lights typically need charging every week or two.

    • goeieio

      As Sébastien points out, an easy way to configure is more important than it seems. In the daytime, I want the logos to flash, so that I’m more visible to motorists. But at night, I want a steady light, for two reasons. First, a blinking front light makes it hard for me to see what’s in front of me. Second, a blinking read light makes it hard for cyclists behind me.

      Given the number of modes these lights have, changing settings with a physical button if impractical. And their previous gesture based system was unreliable.

      I like your point about bright and blinking being a simpler solution. But that doesn’t work well in my case. Always bright would mean recharging my lights every day, given current battery tech. And blinking causes the problems mentioned above.

    • giorgid

      Well, I’m not sure that I’m a big fan of these, either, but just an observation. I guess that your phone would warn you if someone was messing around with your LIGHTS, too. I’m guessing that the sensir is accelerometer based, so trying to pull the light from the bike ought to trigger an alert. Of course, with something as small as a light, it would be impossible to know which pocket it was in…

    • David

      One cool proposed feature on their website is that you could report your light stolen. And if another Icon ever gets near it, it can disable it.

  4. Brian

    Nice, I had just signed up as a backer yesterday – great to hear your thoughts on it.

  5. Ray

    I think it’s an interesting project but I don’t think I fit the target audience (and I’m unsure exactly who that would be?).

    I like the automatic adjustments based off of your surroundings (i.e. getting darker, etc), but there are a lot of features I simply wouldn’t use. At the end of the day I’m fine with my current rear light which cost less than half of this. Sure, I have to reach around mid-ride and turn it on as it gets dark but that’s a very minor inconvenience . I’m sure if I had this device, I’d love it, but it’s really hard for me to justify the expense when my current light still works perfectly fine and was much cheaper. I like the direction we’re going with bike lights though and edge 520 support would definitely make me willing to pay a bit more for the device, though I’m afraid it’d still be a bad too expensive for my peasant taste.

  6. Nils

    Looks interesting, but how good does the front light light up the road ahead? Or is it more about to be seen on (inner-city) roads and not so much for when you drive on backroads/”through the woods”?

  7. Troy

    Slightly off topic

    Anyone have a link? amazon or whatever

    I would like to get some more of the ” rubber connectors ” in the first pick please?
    For attaching the light or other lights to handle bars or seat posts

    Thanks

  8. Troy

    Thanks!
    I will try there

  9. Stuart Duckworth

    Ray – if they are Irish they aren’t in the UK…….

  10. Halfab

    They are Northern Irish so technically Ray is right. But let’s not go there……..

  11. Paul Martin

    Ugh, enough with these lights and their shitty optics, just spraying light everywhere, including into the faces of oncoming pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. And don’t get me started on blinking lights to see where you’re going. They’re annoying to everyone else and you only illuminate the road in front of you 50% of the time.

    Buy proper lights from companies like Philips or Busch & Muller – grown up lights with sensible optics.

    • I assume you missed the part where I talk about the beam and that it actually isn’t just spraying light everywhere, but has two beams – once focused at the right (for the cyclist) and one that illuminates the sides of the device (to increase visibility of the cyclist).

      As for blinking, you can decide which mode you want (steady or blinking). Never thought choice was a bad thing…

    • Paul Martin

      Nope, I didn’t miss it at all.

      It has a ‘focussed’ beam and a ‘dispersed’ beam – both are round; both are as annoying and useless as most cheap bicycle lights out there. Sorry, but for a ‘connected’ light, it should have first class optics. If you want to illuminate the road in front of you (for a decent distance) it’s impossible to not shine light into oncoming faces with these simple, round LED beams. And a focussed rear beam is annoying & distracting – like being behind a motorist with their fog lights on… when there is no fog. There is no need for it.

      Compare this with high quality Philips or B&M lights which have even road illumination (uniformly bright) with a sharp upper beam cut-off to not dazzle anyone and no flashing. There is no evidence flashing lights are any safer and in many places they’re not even legal.

      I haven’t even mentioned the other absurd features… theft alert!? Pffft!

      I love tech as much as anyone but this is tech for the sake of tech. Overcomplicating the simple without making its basic function (ie. the light!) world class. Kickstarter… very low signal to noise.

    • Eltonioni

      You seem to be on the wrong website Paul, this one is about sports tech.

      Try http://www.pifcobikelanternworld.com for something more suitable for your needs. :)

      I love my B&M Ixon too but I don’t want to marry it and live in monogamous bliss for ever more. These new lamps are a really interesting addition to the armory when it comes to staying alive on dark wet city streets.

    • Rouleur

      I think you missed the point Paul.

      A bit harsh to criticise something before you’ve even had it in your hand. I bought the original See.Sense light and have been really pleased with it. It is a great product.

      As others have said it is more of a be seen light than a see where you are going. That is something they have tried to address but I would agree that it won’t be as good as a dedicated front light. Still an interesting product and I have backed it.

  12. Changren Yong

    Ray, have you tested the “Intelligent sensor” feature? Is that based on accelerometer? I have the Lupine Rotlicht, which has an accelerometer-based brake light but it does not work that well in the real world. It’s either not sensitive enough for the brake light to be triggered when slowing down or it’s way too sensitive that any bump/pothole in the road will trigger the brake light.

  13. Frank Boosman

    FYI, Ray, in a comment on their Kickstarter page, they write, “[W]e’re using a Rigado module. We couldn’t find a dual Bluetooth SMART and ANT+ module that met with our requirements.” So it looks as if a firmware update is out.

    Here’s my question: I take my phone on my rides but keep it tucked away safely in a bag. If I want to change the light settings (namely illumination), does that mean I have to stop, take my phone out, unlock it, switch to their app, make the changes, then turn off my phone, put it away, and begin riding again? It’s not a deal-breaker but it’s not ideal. I’d love some sort of small handlebar mounted controller, perhaps along the lines of Bontrager’s controller for their ANT+ lights. Does such a thing exist from a third party?

    • You can just push the button on the lights to change it between blinking/steady modes.

    • Frank Boosman

      What would be cool (and maybe this exists or is planned) would be if the app let you set up n configurations, like front-only, rear-only, front-and-rear-steady, front-and-rear-blinking, front-steady-rear-blinking, etc., and then pushing the button on either light cycled between your preset configurations.

  14. RustedRoot

    I, too, own the original See.Sense and became an early backer of the ICON+, so clearly I’m a supporter.

    Just as I now will only wear a helmet with MIPS, since proving its worth in a crash this summer, I think the See.Sense lights give me an edge and a measure of safety that matters most to me. One factor that’s mentioned in Ray’s review is that See.Sense lights are designed for daytime use. It’s worth emphasizing the importance of that and it’s what sold me with the original lights since all of my riding is in daylight. If I can get a distracted driver’s attention for just a second with a strobe-like flash, it’s worth the cost of a high-lumen light. Particularly now, in the fall, with sun so low in the sky I want to make sure I’m seen. If daytime running lights are on cars and we know they can be more easily seen than those without it shouldn’t we cyclists do the same?

    Last point is that See.Sense has given me terrific after sale support. I think the company understands customer service and employs it very well. Had it not I certainly wouldn’t be backing its new undertaking. That’s something to consider.

  15. Ale

    I have the bontrager flare An + lights, can i use them with the garmin edge 500?

  16. Chris

    Why does it need to flash Brighter.
    As a cyclist and professional driver,
    Some rear lights are so bloody bright they are a distraction.
    Too many cyclists rely on their lights.. Without
    A
    Bright clothing
    B
    Thinking about other road users…

    And aren’t flashing lights mentioned to be only used on conjunction woth a permanent lights as well?

    • I always laugh when people say lights on a bike are a distraction. Good. You saw the cyclist – that’s the point. The point was to distract you enough that you saw the cyclist and didn’t flatten them. Surely as a driver you can avoid the numerous distractions that are on the roads today. Everything is a distraction – the cars approaching from side streets, the hot person running down the street, or the occasional moose.

    • RustedRoot

      Right on the mark Ray.

      I get very ornery when I read these comments. Chris, what do you do when a car approaches at night with high-beams (aka, brights) on? As a professional you know to look to the right and down at the fog line to guide your path. Compared with that you think bicycling lights are too bright and “offensive” to others? Whatever it takes to distract the driver from distraction is the point.

      At least you’re not making the argument I’ve read elsewhere that some cycling lights are so bright drivers get mesmerized/blinded by them and drive right into the cyclist. At least I hope you’re not making that argument. If so, see the high-beam discussion above.

      I completely agree about bright clothing including reflective materials at night.

  17. goeieio

    Hey Ray, any word on a trade-in program for people who bought the first gen lights?

  18. Laramie

    Thanks for the heads up Ray. My wife convinced me to back this product. Always good when safety and tech combine :)

  19. David

    When I first saw this article and the corresponding kickstarter page, both mentioned “See” and “Be Seen”. After receiving my beta units, I have to say that I am no impressed with the “See” portion. The see sense website seems to downplay the “See” portion now.
    I haven’t actually ridden with them yet. But I carried the front on my evening walk last night. I bought the Icon+, which is supposed to be 2×210 lumens. It is nowhere near as bright as my 1×150 lumens Solite 150 running light from Light And Motion. (I’ve decided that the solite 150 is not really quite enough to ride in the dark. So I wanted something brighter). The Icon+ does seem to have a slightly larger beam pattern, but I don’t think it will really assist me with riding in the dark. Hopefully the issue is the light is not currently at full brightness, and all will be better once the iOS app is released.

  20. JAMES D.

    Curious to know if any other BETA backers are experiencing delivery issues with their Sense Icon light – Its being claimed that my lights have been delivered, but unfortunately not to me! Im not having the best time dealing with Sense either to get to the bottom of it – very short and off on the phone with me today.

    James

  21. Good review, I was very impressed with these as well.

    link to roubaixcycling.wordpress.com

  22. Tony Carmichael

    See Sense Icon at the bleeding edge of technology

    Bought the Icon+ front and rear light set and they have been nothing but trouble. Emailed See Sense and went through all their fixes to no avail and had to return the rear light. Replacement light does not work properly either. I think they brought the lights to market before resolving all the teething issues. I think most of them are software related. Both lights when working are great – bright and fit on bike well. But the should be easy task of just turning them on or off is finicky. Using the phone app or manually they often do not turn on or turn off. Very frustrating. I think I will just put them in the cupboard for 6 months until they get the software sorted. The software version is already at version 27. I think I will wait until it is 50 before getting the lights out again.

    • That’s a shame Tony. I didn’t experience that. But, on the turning on and off, and I know it rather defeats the object of the tech, but I tend to just use the button and then the app for fine tuning etc, or if I want to use the theft protection on a stop.

  23. Michael A Buoy

    Hi
    I find the biggest problem with this seesence rear light is turning it completly off after I’ve completed my ride!
    Any feedback would be most appreciated in this regard.
    Sure you can leave it unattended and it will go 2 sleep mode,but I want it completely off overnite.
    After many attempts it will turn off but that takes forever.
    Apart from the above I find the light fantastic for my every need down-under in Australia.

  24. Marcus Fahy

    Any thoughts since the launch of the icon+ on whether an icon+ set or a Varia front and radar bundle would be a better purchase. Running an Edge 1000 so the Varia would link to that but from a performance stand point, which would be most useful and better out and about on sportives and training rides?

  25. John S.

    I bought these because I subscribe to Ray’s theory about brighter is better. Also, I wanted something to be more visible during the day since I ride on country roads where the speed limit is high. I bought the Icon+ set.

    When I compare this to my Bontraeger Flare (65 lumens) it’s brighter and more visible than these lights at many times more lumens. I believe this is for two reasons – (1) they are not running these at 100% power even when you set them to that with the app. They want to have headroom when the sense something and be able to go brighter. The company confirmed this in correspondence we’ve had. For daylight riding this is not acceptable – (2) their duty cycle on the flashes when no
    “dangerous situation” is detected is too short such that you don’t get the full impression of the lights brightness.

    What bothers me about this is that they seem to think the only “dangerous situations” are when you’re slowing down or entering an intersection. They claim they increase brightness when a vehicle approaches but this is only at night and so they leave you pretty much unprotected and unseen during the day when cars are approaching at speed.

    What need to be added is a full daytime mode where the leds flash at 100% of flash output all the time, with a longer duty cycle. without this these lights are inadequate on high speed roads during daylight.