Every experienced city cyclist knows that high visibility colors and bright blinky lights do not always translate to being seen by drivers. There's a big difference between being visible and being seen. So how can bike riders improve their chance of being seen?
My solution is to hack basic human psychology. Research shows that people behave more ethically under the watchful eye of … anything that looks like an eye. And everybody notices eyeballs - the way you know when someone is staring at you even if they are way out in your peripheral vision. So the best bike light to be noticed and stay safe is a pair Crazy Giant EYEBALL Bike Lights!
Lights like these can be constructed pretty easily and for only about $40, in this instructable you will learn exactly how.
Step 1: Parts and Tools You'll Need
EL (electroluminescent) panels like the one in the picture are lightweight, thin, flexible and provide a bright glow with low power. To work they need batteries, an on/off switch, and a direct-current to alternating current (DC to AC) inverter. These can each be separate or integrated into one enclosure depending on what you buy - I've specified an integrated unit. It will easily fit in your pocket. A common size EL panel is "A6", measuring about 4 by 6 inches. A pair of these panels are perfect for eyes to watch your back.
- Two A6 size electroluminescent (EL) panels. Note: Buy both without inverters. We'll be buying an integrated inverter and battery enclosure, which will light both panels. (ebay, Amazon) $20-25
- One EL panel inverter & battery enclosure (Amazon) under $10
- Colored transparent plastic sheet (Amazon, Ebay) difficult to buy a small amount, but you can get it for $10-15. You can find lower cost & quantity colored plastic as portfolios & report covers at an office supply store like Staples.
- Duct tape
- Thin 24 or 26 gage wire, about 6ft. (1.8m)
- Soldering iron + solder. You'll need to solder the EL battery box/inverter to the two EL panels. Wire them in parallel.
Step 2: Designing the EYEBALL Center
Starting with an Electroluminescent (EL) panel base, you add dark masks and colored filtering to make your eyes. It is fun to experiment making eyes in a variety of shapes and colors. Use colored paper for initial "proofs" and when you like the design, use your proofs as stencils to make your final design out of waterproof and durable materials.
The EL panel is the "white" of the eye (the sclera). To make the pupil, cut a circle of about 1" diameter out of black construction paper. I used a quarter as a stencil. Next cut a 2.5" - 3" diameter circle for the iris. A compass works great for this, or trace a soup can. For my iris template I used a light blue "Post It note" which allowes a great amount of light to shine through. With just these two parts, our creation already looks like an eye!
Step 3: Shape the Eye With Additional Masking
Cut out a border to shape the eye. I cut two oversized curves, and moved them around relative to the rest of the eye until I got the shape I wanted. Orient the EL panel diagonally to get the largest eye from the rectangle shape.
Feel free to experiment with different colors and shapes. A cat-eye pupil, an orange iris, or a more "gourd like" shaped eye border can make dramatic differences in the overall appearance. If you want a matched pair of eyes, just flip your eye template over to trace out a mirror image shape. However if you want to go for a more sinister or monster looking eye, a bit of asymmetry & uniqueness between the two can be a good thing.
Once you like the shape of the eyes, tape the pieces in place relative to each other to preserve the shape. Use the paper cut-outs as a template to make your eyes from durable materials.
Step 4: Finish Your Eyes With Durable Materials
Your eyes will be exposed to the elements, so we want something more weather resistant than paper. Use black duct tape for the pupil and transparent colored plastic for the iris. If the jacket or vest you plan to mount the eyes on is colored, try to find duct tape matching the jacket color for your eye borders.
- Cut your iris out of colored transparent plastic sheet.
- Cut your pupil shape out of black duct tape (or electrical tape), and apply it to the center of the iris.
- Glue the iris to the EL panel with a dot of waterproof glue (or hot glue) in the center - so the glue will be hidden behind the pupil.
To cut the duct tape to shape, apply it to a large plastic cutting board. Trace your template shapes onto the tape and cut with a sharp utility knife. Place your EL panels onto the jacket laid out on a hard, flat surface (an ironing board works great). Now carefully peel the mask off the cutting board and lay it into place to both shape the eyes and stick them in place on the jacket. Try to neatly tuck the wire under the tape. Route the wire under one arm of the jacket (it does not need to be taped the whole way). Store the transformer/battery case in your pocket where it's out of the weather and easy to turn on and off.
Step 5: Go and Ride Your Bicycle!
Crazy Giant EYEBALL lights glow brightly indoors and outside at night. They can't compete with daylight – but they still look like eyes whether or not they are on, so they demand attention and evoke a strong positive response.
The pictures above show how the eyes stand out on a well lit residential street, with distracting backlight and from a distance (pictures taken at 200', shown with different levels of zoom).
If you have built your own, please let us know!