See.Sense was a spark of inspiration born out of frustration for co-founder and CEO Philip McAleese. Living and working in Singapore as a director for a large multinational investment bank, he decided to start cycling to work in a bid to keep fit. It was during his daily commute that Philip discovered the uncompromising attitude of motorists in the densely populated island city-state.
And having previously been hospitalised following one collision on his bike, he started looking at ways of improving his own road safety.
“In Singapore, they have the concept called ‘kiasu’, which is the idea of wanting to come first,” Philip explained. “It’s hard to describe – it’s not that Singaporeans are aggressive drivers, but they’re very assertive. If there’s a millimetre of space, somebody will dive into it. They think nothing of passing a cyclist and then immediately turning left into their path. That’s quite acceptable as they consider they have road position, because they’re there before you.”
Statistics showed Philip that nearly 80 per cent of accidents involving cyclists happened in urban areas during the hours of daylight, specifically at road junctions and roundabouts. He also discovered that most cycle lights failed to address many of the main concerns of cyclists.
“Some lights were simply not bright enough, while the ones that were bright had a poor battery life, or required a battery pack that wasn’t suitable for a commuter,” Philip added. “I needed to be more visible during the commuting peak times of dawn and dusk, when most bike lights were not effective.”
The inspiration behind See.Sense happened during one of Philip’s commutes.
“I was thinking about the smartphone in my pocket,” he revealed. “There was a lot of sensor technology on that device and I wondered could we use some of that to develop a light that’s bright when it needs to be, and conserves energy when it doesn’t. It was really from there that I looked at the sensor technology in smartphones and integrated it into See.Sense to create the first intelligent bike light. I wanted to create a light that was really attention-grabbing, even in daylight. Light performance is usually a trade-off between high brightness, long runtime and compactness. See.Sense uses power intelligently, enabling it to be bright when you need it and still have a long runtime in a small package.”
Prior to working in the banking sector, Philip had graduated from Queen’s University of Belfast with a Bachelor of Engineering (Electronic and Software Engineering). Following university, he spent two years designing air traffic control simulators for National Air Traffic Services - the UK equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration. Philip was able to draw on his background in electronic and software engineering to come up with his innovative bike light concept.
“What started off as a personal quest to make something that was more convenient for me as a commuter, the idea started to grow,” he added. “I didn’t intend creating a product that would be sold throughout the world, but word began to spread and the more I spoke to other cyclists, the more I realised that they shared the same problem and were looking for the same solution.”
Having researched the idea and having gauged the opinion of other cyclists, Philip and his wife Irene started to realise the potential behind the idea. They decided to leave their corporate jobs and return to Northern Ireland to focus on the development of the business, and it was in Newtownards that See.Sense was born. Philip and Irene worked with hundreds of cyclists around the world and tested several prototypes with their local cycling club, North Down CC.
They also worked with Queen’s University Belfast as well as the University of Ulster on the casing design and testing of the light, before launching on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter in October 2013.
“Kickstarter was a huge success, with over 850 lights pre-ordered. We also raised nearly three times the funding goal,” Philip added.
See.Sense went on to deliver all their orders to customers in April 2014, and also launched a version 2.0 four months later based on early adopter feedback.
The success story continued in November 2015 when See.Sense launched ICON – the intelligent and connected cycle light.
ICON - which built on the stellar success of the 2.0 - was also launched on Kickstarter, raising over £80,000 from 934 backers. By early 2016, See.Sense had already fulfilled all ICON pledges. The company has now shipped to over 50 countries, and is stocked with retailers all over the world. See.Sense has grown from being a husband and wife team to a dedicated group of staff. They also provide additional work for the local community by manufacturing in Northern Ireland. They continue to earn rave reviews from both the cycling community and wider mainstream media, and have won a number of prestigious awards including the road.cc 'People's Choice Award for Best Rear Light' and featured in the London Design Museum's Cycle Revolution Exhibition.
“We are delighted with the response See.Sense has already received from thousands of cyclists around the world,” Irene said. “Bringing a new innovative product from idea to reality is tougher and more challenging than we could ever have imagined, but every day we are spurred on by the genuine customer testimonials that people share with us. It reminds us why we started this and it makes it all worthwhile.”