Tech that wants to save cyclists’ lives: meet the team behind Backtracker

iKubu is a hardware company based in Stellenbosch, South Africa that focuses on building products in the field of radar and computer vision. It’s recently launched a rather savvy commercial product, Backtracker, through the Dragon Innovation crowd funding platform, which aims to keep cyclists safe. So far the company’s presentation is working out well, though time will tell whether or not it delivers.

iKubu has been self-funded by Franz Struwig ever since it started back in 2006. Two years later, Nolan van Heerden came on board as a shareholder. Apart from Backtracker, it’s responsible for making a number of other products, many of which have value on the international market.

Speaking to Ventureburn about iKubu’s vision, founder and CEO Struwig argues that technology is pivotal in amplifying our sensory experiences. “iKubu helps people see what they can’t,” he says. It does so by crafting innovative products like Backtracker — a unique device that keeps cyclists from being rear-ended.

Struwig elaborates that, “Backtracker is a perfect template of how we can harness technology to supercharge our sensory abilities. Technology should serve people, not the other way round.”


The front component of Backtracker.
Backtracker consists of two devices — one on the bicycle’s handlebar, the other at the back. The latter picks up cars behind you as far as 150m, even in areas with bad light, rain and fog. The front device notifies the cyclist, indicating the exact distance of the vehicle behind them.

The device also acts as a communication device between the cyclist and the car behind him — the closer the car comes to the cyclist, the more intense the red light at the rear becomes, making the vehicle more aware of the cyclist. It would be nice to see an app option for analytics and an alternative to the front component, but iKubu notes that technically this is not out of the question.


The rear component of Backtracker.
Cyclists on the road are worried about vehicles approaching from behind, and for good reason. A US study recently found that 40% of accident fatalities were caused by rear-end collisions — the most common type of collision on the road. Some cyclists do use helmet mirrors to aid them, although these can pose problems like blind-spots or distractions.

Behind the product

The company has a unique way of approaching its projects. iKubu starts projects in order to gain skills, market exposure and funds, which are then poured into its product development arm. The product development efforts generate IP, which then feeds back into the projects, causing a virtuous cycle.

Backtracker is iKubu’s first crowdfunding campaign. Struwig explains why iKubu chose this method, saying that “crowdfunding is an excellent way of validating the market. People often misunderstand the purpose of crowdfunding, equating it to a way of getting money. The real value lies in getting to know your customers, and getting traction before giving away any equity.”

The crowdfunding campaign has a two-pronged goal. On the one hand, iKubu tests out the market with a new savvy product. Where local and international VCs and hardware investors have failed, opting for crowdfunding was a no-brainer. There are fewer hoops to jump through.

On the other hand, via the Dragon Innovation platform, iKubu is given the opportunity of making a name for itself. So far, Dragon Innovation has a 100% track record and has seen the likes of Pebble and the Makerbot under its belt — products that have proven to be incredibly successful. Unlike Kickstarter or any other financing platform, Dragon Innovation does due diligence and serves a hardware-focused community keen to support new and exciting projects.

With Backtracker, iKubu also has a chance to show its skills off on an international stage, and gain valuable credibility. Since it’s a small tech startup in Africa, it needs to make a splash internationally to both promote and prove its credibility.

“There has been a lot of ‘vapourware’ on Kickstarter in recent years, and people have become sceptical of hardware projects since so few of them actually deliver,” says Struwig. Dragon Innovation makes sure that the companies on board are capable of delivering on their promises, which adds a lot of credibility.

The road ahead

Talking about what else is in the pipeline, Struwig notes that iKubu is using its micro-radar platform in perimeter monitoring, mining safety, and other techniques to track the following distance between cars. The fact that the company decided to zoom in on the cycling market, in this instance, is a smart move in that there are not many big players hogging the radar tech space.

So far the talent and effort that’s gone into the campaign is very impressive. From the product design to the product page and the way iKubu’s approaching its whole development process, they seem to be on the right track. Whether they pay off remains to be seen. This depends on whether or not the target market will be convinced that Backtracker is solving a real issue.

Struwig says that Backtracker ticks all the right boxes in that it is world class, technically challenging, addresses a real-world problem, and makes a positive difference. “We want to make a dent in the world, and it feels like with Backtracker, we’re moving closer to this goal,” he says.

Franz says the campaign’s US$226 000 goal means all or nothing. “If we don’t get the full amount, it would actually be a good indication for us that the market doesn’t want this product — so wouldn’t want to invest further,” he says. The campaign launched about two weeks ago and has so far raised more than US$26 000 with less than seven weeks to go.

The US has been the biggest supporter so far, with about 75% of the total support coming from that demographic. The UK and South Africa are the runners-up. Going forward, Struwig says he’s confident in the campaign’s success and will be travelling to the US where he’ll be further promoting Backtracker.

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter


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