This review was conducted with an early-stage prototype of the Beeline, powered by an arduino board. The final hardware and app due to ship in August 2016 will look different.
The Beeline is a cycle navigation device that dumps your usual turn-by-turn directions for an arrow that always points you in the right direction.
Launched as a Kickstarter campaign, Beeline isn’t a turn-by-turn GPS device as you would have in a car, instead it simply shows the direction of your final destination. It gives you more freedom to get there using your nouse. Its creators call it “fuzzy navigation”.
The concept is simple. The Beeline uses your smartphone to do most of the heavy lifting: you plug your final destination into the app, and the direction and distance is then shown on the Beeline device strapped to your handlebars.
The final app will also support waypoints, allowing more flexible routing via your favourite coffee shop. The app I took for a spin could only point me in the direction of a single destination.
Fun and less stressful than turn-by-turn
The device is a small black puck, communicating with the phone using Bluetooth. It straps around the handlebars, and has a small circular e-paper display to show the direction and distance to your destination.
Using it is much more fun than a traditional turn-by-turn GPS device; they can be somewhat stressful on a bike, and can route via particularly cycle-unsympathetic roads. They’re about efficiency, not exploring.
By simply pointing at your final destination, the Beeline imparts a sense of freedom. It feels lively enough so that you won’t be heading in the wrong direction for long. There wasn’t that sense of dread you sometimes feel when navigating using a GPS bike computer. A side benefit of only showing the direction is that it forces you to re-engage with your surroundings, and gives you a stronger sense of place.
Having missed many turnings with a turn-by-turn cycling computer, I can attest to it being a pain. They often take a while to recognise you’re off course and then ask you to recalculate the route. Once you’ve decided to do that, you’ve often missed the best reroute leading to a cycle of stopping, waiting for it to catch up, then getting going again. It’s awkward.
Small black puck
One nice aspect of the hardware is its size (once it ships – at the moment it’s a MacGyver-like creation involving an Arduino and a USB battery). It’s small enough to kept in pocket, bag or a saddlebag. It’d be a device you’d probably want to use over your smartphone for navigation because keeping your phone’s screen on kills its battery.
Attaching it and detaching it is easy as there’s no bracket left behind. The prototype was held on via a stiff rubber band that connected the Beeline to its lid. The two clipped into each other to hold it on the handlebars. It felt OK, but could do with refinement as it was a bit loose. The lid can be flipped on to screen for transport in a bag or pocket.
The Beeline is currently available in Kickstarter for £45, and is expected to ship in August 2016. A final retail version is expected to cost around £60.
It’s clear there’s a gap for non-GPS driven routing where exploration and awareness is more important than the most efficient route. Even in its prototype state, the Beeline was fun to use, and I found it less stressful to use than a traditional turn-by-turn system.
The concept is sound for those that ride in cities and know roughly where they’re going, or want more flexibility en route. We’ll see what the hardware looks like once the device has shipped in August.
Pros: small, light, easy to attach, more riding freedom, no re-routing delays, good battery life because of the e-paper screen (in theory)
Cons: requires using your head rather than blindly following directions, may not take the most efficient route, backing anything on crowdfunding is a risk
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