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by Matt Wikstrom
March 18, 2014
The Fly6 tail-light doubles as a rear-facing camera to watch your back. The device has enjoyed a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $250,000, and the first production units will be ready to ship by the end of May. In this review, CTech Editor Matt Wikstrom takes a closer look at the fifth-generation prototype.
Every road user is vulnerable from the rear, especially cyclists, and it can be a source of great anxiety as well as a sobering reality when incidents do occur. Kingsley Fiegert started working on the idea for a rear-facing camera after he was struck by a projectile from behind while riding his bike. There was little he could have done to avoid the attack, but in the aftermath a rear-facing camera would have identified the vehicle carrying the assailant.
Kingsley credits his son with the initial suggestion for a tail-light camera and after searching the web, was convinced there was merit in pursuing the idea. He discussed the idea with his good friend Andrew Hagan and, as entrepreneurs, they tapped into their resources — and their mortgages and credit cards — to found Fly Lites and develop a prototype.
The combination tail-light and video camera was named the Fly6 because it’s a “fly on the wall” that watches your “6” (the military term for your rear).
Prior to the launch of their Kickstarter campaign on February 10 this year, 150 units of the fifth-generation prototype were sent out to cyclists around Australia for the final stage of development. The feedback was encouraging and the success of the Kickstarter campaign confirmed demand for the product. The sixth-generation prototype will undergo testing shortly with delivery of the first units (to Kickstarter backers) expected from the end of May.
Andrew and Kingsley have done a lot of work on the Fly6. The fifth-generation prototype supplied for review looked like it was ready for market. The presentation was superb: a foam-lined box with cut-outs for the device, mounting brackets and accessories, printed logos and artwork, and a full-colour quick-start guide. According to Andrew, there is a little refining to be done before the first production run, but this prototype is a good representation of the final product.
The camera records at 30 frames per second with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. The plastic lens provides a 130° view and video is encoded in AVI format using H.264 compression. Sound is recorded in 16-bit mono at 32KHz. All recordings get a time and date stamp that is set by the user by downloading a configuration file.
The tail-light is rated at 9.8 lumens for the fifth-generation prototype, however production units will offer an output at least 50% better than that (i.e. 15 lumens) while maintaining a run time of around five hours. There are two flashing sequences to choose from and four dimmer modes, ranging from 100% output to off.
The unit is powered by a rechargeable 1500mAh lithium ion battery that is good for 500+ charging cycles (once exhausted, owners will have to replace the device). When the device is started up or shut down, a series of beeps indicate how much battery charge remains (4 beeps = 100%, 3 beeps = 75%, etc.)
The unit is supplied with one 8GB class 10 microSDHC card that allows around two hours of video recording before the device automatically loops back to the start to continue recording. One button turns the device on and recording commences immediately. The same button is used to toggle between the two light sequences while a second button is used to select the dimming mode. Holding the power button turns the device off.
The Fly6 is weather-resistant with a certified IP rating of 54, which means there is limited ingress of dust and the device is resistant to water spray from any direction. In addition, nano-technology is employed to render all surfaces (both internal and external) hydrophobic.
In the event of an accident and when the bike is tilted more than 45 degrees for longer than three seconds, the Fly6 will activate a shutdown mode that will see it turn off one hour later to protect the footage.
The Fly6 is supplied with two seatpost mounting brackets so the device can be shared between a pair of bikes (or friends). Two rubber straps are used to attach the bracket to the seatpost and alignment spacers are provided (5° and 10°) for fine-tuning the camera angle. In total, there are two pairs of short mounting straps, one pair of long straps, two 5° spacers, two 10° spacers, plus one adaptor for aero seatposts.
As mentioned above, the Fly6 is delivered with a full-colour quick-start guide with detailed instructions available for download. In addition, a mini USB to USB cable is provided for charging the unit and downloading video files.
At the moment, the Fly6 can be pre-ordered for US$135 (delivery extra) then it will be available for US$169 (again, delivery will be extra). For more information visit the Fly6 website. You can also follow Fly6 on Facebook and Twitter.
The first thing that impressed me about the Fly6 is how easy it is to start collecting some footage on your bike. The seatpost bracket is very simple to install, the device slides in securely and all that is needed is to hold down the power button, and “Action!” Such simplicity is in stark contrast to my experience with GoPro’s Hero3, where I needed to first purchase a microSD card and then a handlebar mount before I could start collecting footage.
With only two buttons to choose from, operating the device is straightforward, though I kept forgetting which button to use to turn it on and off while I was on the bike. The battery indicator beeps were effective at reminding me to charge the device every few rides.
With nothing but dry weather forecast during the entire test period, I never challenged the Fly6’s weatherproofing. However, when one ride took me through a muddy puddle, a single drop of muck on the lens had predictable consequences for the quality of the footage. I’ve had the same thing happen while using my GoPro on wet roads — while the lens is out of sight, it is very easy to forget about keeping it clean.
I found the Fly6 easy to access with my Mac computers but I needed to download a video player to view the AVI files collected by the device. Fly6 recommends VLC media player for both Mac and Windows users, though there are other alternatives. In this regard, Fly6 has a support page with FAQs to help with these issues.
Video is saved by the Fly6 in 15-minute packets and collected in folders according to the date recorded. Thus all the footage from one ride is saved in one numbered folder where the last four digits of the name correspond to the date (MMDD). The AVI files are also numbered, where the first four digits correspond to the time recording commenced (in 24-hour format) followed by a sequence number (so the first 15 minutes of footage collected at 8am is named 08000001.AVI; the next fifteen minutes is 08150002.AVI, and so on).
In this way, the footage is easy to search provided you have an idea of the date and time it was collected. In contrast, my GoPro simply assigns a continuing sequence number making it more difficult to find footage once a few days worth of recording have accumulated on the device.
The quality of the video collected by the Fly6 is good, though budding videographers are likely to be frustrated by the modest resolution. The GoPro Hero3 out-performed the Fly6 in this regard, though it is twice the price.
Under normal daytime conditions, the Fly6 does a good job of capturing fine detail (like the number plates on cars) provided the objects are well lit and within a few meters of the device. For a simple comparison, I rode down a quiet street with a GoPro facing forward and the Fly6 facing the rear, both devices recording at the same time:
It’s interesting to compare the response of each device to the lighting conditions. The Fly6 has a tendency for underexposure compared to the GoPro, and as a result, some detail is lost in the shadows. Similarly, objects get distorted at the periphery of the lens.
The Fly6 also had problems when the sun was low in the sky. Any footage collected while facing the sun during the “golden hour” was underexposed or detail was lost in the flare. The Hero3 handled direct light a little better but it too failed to record a lot of detail.
The Fly6 wasn’t designed to record in the dark but I collected some footage after sunset to see how the device performed. As you can see from the video below, the Fly6 records some detail but most of it is lost in the dark. In addition, the flare from the light interferes with the footage. More examples of Fly6 footage can be found here.
As for the light itself, 10-15 lumens output is modest by current standards, but it is still effective in the dark. Since there is limited space for mounting a light and a camera on the seatpost, the Fly6 provides a canny combination, though its length may not suit all bikes or saddle heights.
The Fly6 does everything that it claims. Better yet, it manages it all with a minimum of fuss and effort. The device is simple to use and it produces good quality footage, all for a very reasonable asking price. That the device includes plenty of extras, such as an 8GB microSDHC card and a pair of mounting brackets, adds considerably to the value and appeal of the Fly6.
I can see two audiences for the Fly6: riders that regularly ride in traffic and/or feel vulnerable from the rear; and riders looking for an affordable video camera to use while riding. There are some limitations to the device’s recording ability, but I’m sure both groups of users will find satisfaction with the Fly6.
What about the bigger picture? Is there a place for “nanny-cams” on the road? I don’t think the threat of being caught on camera will do much to change the behaviour of reckless road users, and these devices don’t have the power to influence the course of tragic circumstances. However, in the event of a collision — even a near miss — the Fly6 promises to render a sound account of the situation, though it should be used wisely.