Project Aura: Lighting the Way to An Upsurge in Bike Commuters?


I have the good fortune of living in Portland, Oregon, where I bike commute daily. In a recent article it was reported that a former car dealership is soon opening as a 10,000 square foot bike shop and that other bike shops in town are expanding. A sign of the times or something Portland specific?

In either case, despite the massive and increasing miles of bicycling infrastructure and resources, well under 10% of  Portland’s population commutes regularly by bicycle. And that’s a national record high figure!

Why is this the case?

Many factors could be pointed to, like the American association of having a car with being grown up, extensive commutes without an easy way for people to get around without their car, and the simple things, like bike lanes or even sidewalks. Car driver/bicyclist antagonism could play a part. Or it may be as Ride The City posited, the gas. The cheapness of it! Yes, at $4 a gallon.

Cheap gas has made low-density development and auto dependence a logical and cost-effective choice for most adults and has allowed those of us with easy access to an automobile to live comfortably among miles of strip malls, office “parks” located hours from city centers and far-flung suburban development. That very expensive infrastructure makes less and less sense as energy costs rise, but it’s also the legacy we have to work with.

But what if all of the needed factors are in place, people say they’re willing to give biking as an adult a try, and it still isn’t happening? What’s stopping them?

For many, it may be as simple as safety. Being used to being behind tons of steel, people feel too vulnerable, being exposed on 20 pounds of aluminum. An emerging solution may help address that, while upping the cool factor: Project Aura.

As the video explains, most bicycle fatalities occur at night, between 5-10pm. 36% occur at intersections. Powered by a wheel mounted dynamo, a rider need only pedal, and their wheels are lit up via a series of LEDs on the outer edge of the wheels, giving it a distinctly Tronlike appearance, which changes color depending on the speed.

The Aura Project video demonstrates their device in a number of settings – It’s unmissable. And, with no batteries to die and no switch needed to turn it on, foolproof.

Is it the answer to all America’s biking woes? No. But, judging from the huge interest people are showing for what was just meant to be a student industrial design project, the Aura Project may yet see the light of day.

Readers: How do you see biking as primary transportation becoming a reality for more Americans? What are some successes we can model? What’s missing from the current picture?


Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing. || ==> For more, see

12 responses

  1. I do a lot of night riding, and you just can’t have too many lights. Don’t see any downside here other than the power source. Some people already have generator hubs in the front, and a left-side mount would interfere with disk brakes. These seem small points, and I’d love to ride this. :-)

    1. Good points there Chris. This was originally just a design project of some undergrad students at Carnagie Mellon. Now its been getting a lot of traction, and I passed it on to a friend who’s started at Princeton Tec, the lighting company. Who knows, this could happen!

  2. They look amazing. I’d definitely be into buying a set if the dynamo installation didn’t require a new set of hubs.

    I have to say though, looks aside, I don’t know that they’d be greatly more visible to car drivers than old-school reflectors (which are as bright as the headlights hitting them). Less sexy, but still pretty effective.

    1. Owen, good point re the hubs.

      But as for effectiveness as compared to standard issue reflectors, those depend on someone’s headlights illuminating them. If you’re basically dark to a driver until you’re right in front of a car, it doesn’t do much good. The Aura Project lights, from what the video shows, are extremely visible, from low light to even in daylight (got to get the attention of texting drivers!)

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