Lighting up the future of road safety with smart helmets

Lumos Labs wants to make the world safer for cyclists

WHEN Lumos Labs co-founder Ding Eu-Wen created his first product - a brightly lit helmet - all he wanted was to get from point A to point B on his bicycle without getting hit by a car. This modest goal was actually a real challenge, since he often met aggressive drivers while cycling around Boston in the United States.

This prompted Ding, then a Harvard graduate student, to make his own prototype of a helmet: one with lights integrated into it, so that motorists could see him clearly at night.

"Thereafter, every time I rode around with it, someone would ask me: 'That's super cool, what is that? How much is it and where can I get one?'" recalled Ding. "By then, I just assumed that this was such a simple idea. It's definitely been done already."

"I Googled around looking for it - couldn't find it. It doesn't exist!" 

Realising that there was a market for such a product, Ding decided to be the one who would bring this idea to life.

But the first-time entrepreneur soon discovered just how hard it was to create a product and sell it to the masses.

The company, then comprising four employees, developed its first product in 2015. It spent US$100,000 designing and manufacturing 1,000 helmets, of which 10 per cent were sent to users to test the product.

But the users gave lacklustre feedback. "The response we got was just like: 'Yeah, it works, it's cool.' But you could sense that there was really no enthusiasm behind it. There was no wow factor," said Ding.

Not wanting to release a less-than-perfect product, Ding scrapped the helmet altogether and set out to build a new and improved model. This set the company back by another year on its timeline before it finally launched its first commercial product - what is now known as the Lumos Helmet.

"That was a very defining moment for us. We could not accept building a mediocre product… we would rather die trying," said Ding.

Thankfully, the firm did not go down. Instead, in 2017, Lumos Labs clinched its biggest deal yet: a partnership with Apple.

In this partnership, the team developed a smart helmet that was compatible with Apple watches. The wearers of such watchers could control the helmet's signal lights by putting an arm out in the direction where they planned to head. 

In 2018, Lumos' product became the first ever helmet to grace the shelves of an Apple store, retailing in over 300 such stores around the world.

Just under two years later, the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the world, forcing many businesses to shutter for good. But not Lumos. On the contrary, the company booked its first profits in 2020, after sales more than doubled through the year.

Amid the pandemic, countries introduced social distancing measures that prevented people from gathering in large groups - thus prompting a cycling boom.

Seeing this, Ding seized the opportunity to introduce his next helmet, Lumos Ultra, which raised US$3 million via a campaign on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

"It turned out to be a perfect product at a perfect time," said Ding. "That was the biggest hardware and bicycle-related campaign in Kickstarter's history. We sold more Ultra helmets than all our (past) customers combined."

Through distributors and major online retailers such as Amazon, the Lumos brand now has a presence in most major markets, including the US, Europe, Canada, Australia and Asia.

However, while the company enjoyed great success during the pandemic, Ding anticipates troubled waters ahead as the world recovers from Covid-19: "Spending has somewhat shifted back to travel, experiences and essentials. So it is a difficult, difficult period of time."

But he remains upbeat about the company's long-term prospects, driven by his dream of making the world a safer place for cyclists.

"A lot of demand has shifted over time during the pandemic. It's going to bottom out for a while, for the next six to 12 months, but it'll come back to normal," said Ding. 

"We're just going to have to keep building better products and focus on essentials as well."

Lumos is working on a new product, the Lumos Firefly: a smart light that can be mounted onto a bicycle individually or in sets, and can be used to signal the direction of travel. Lumos aims to deliver 30,000 such lights by next year, having raised over US$1.1 million in its latest Kickstarter campaign.

Ding hopes that the company will one day become synonymous with its product category, just like how some major brands have become known for a core product: Tesla for electric cars, say, or Dyson for vacuum cleaners.

"Hopefully one day, when you start cycling, you'd think: 'Oh, I should get a Lumos.'"


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