Woman of the Week is Stylist’s weekly celebration of women who are making a difference to society. Here, we talk to Emily Brooke, founder and CEO of Blaze and the inventor of the Laserlight.
Emily Brooke is the creator of one of the most revolutionary technologies in modern biking history, so it’s surprising to learn that she’s far from a lifelong cycling fan.
But the inventor and entrepreneur was actually in her mid-20s before she rode a bike as an adult. That pivotal moment came in 2011, shortly before Brooke was due to begin her final year of a product design degree at Brighton University, when a friend coaxed her into completing a charity bike ride across the UK.
The epic cycle sent her back to her studies with renewed determination – as well as an idea for her final project. Now she had seen first-hand how dangerous life could be for cyclists on the road, she wanted to help change things for the better.
“The countryside had been relaxing and beautiful to ride in but the cities were scary, dangerous and stressful,” Brooke, now 32, tells Stylist. “I wanted to tackle the biggest problem for urban cycling. I spoke to a lot of cyclists and they all said it was safety.”
After conducting extensive research into urban cycle safety in the UK, Brooke discovered several disturbing facts. One of the most poignant statistics, she says, was that 79% of cyclists involved in accidents are travelling straight ahead: the accident occurs because somebody else turns into them.
That research led her to create what would later become known as the Laserlight. A headlight that fixes to the front of a bike, it also projects the symbol of a bike onto the ground in front via a laser. The light alerts drivers ahead that a cyclist is coming, making them more vigilant about potentially turning across a bike’s path. And just two days after she presented the prototype at her final year exhibition, the Laserlight concept was being talked about on every cycling blog in the UK.
“That was my confirmation that this was something the world needed,” Brooke says.
But it takes money to turn a buzz-making idea into something that people can actually buy, and so Brooke launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to make the Laserlight a consumer product after finishing her degree. It now ships to 65 countries around the world.
“I completely lost my cool,” she says, describing the first time she saw a finished Laserlight at a testing facility in China. “It looked like a real retail product and it was very overwhelming.”
More recently, the Laserlight has been built into the Santander cycles in London and the city bikes in New York. (Blaze, the company Brooke founded, also designed all the on-board technology for the new Santander cycles.) Products have to go through rigorous safety assessments to be accepted by Transport for London (TfL), but after 12 weeks of testing the Laserlight came out with glowing reviews.
“[TfL] filed a 92-page document saying the Laserlight is golden,” Brooke says, justifiably proud. “They had stats that said the Laserlight decreases the blind spot of a bus by over 25%, a van by nearly 30% and 78% of London bus drivers surveyed said it would help them spot a cyclist.”
Despite coming to cycling relatively late, Brooke truly believes that bikes are the future. Much of the UK’s growing population lives in cities, she points out, and she wants Blaze “to be the company providing the technology to enable urban cycling”.
“It’s the best way to get around: it’s better for the environment, for people’s fitness and mental health and for congestion,” she says. “And you see the city.”
She hopes that other women will have the confidence to turn their bright ideas into life-changing inventions. “Just take a leap,” she advises. “You’ll learn so much more by getting on with it with the information you have than thinking and worrying about doing it.”
The Woman of the Week series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. Find out more about the campaign here, and see more Visible Women stories here.
Images: Rex Features / iStock