Des Burns was riding his bike to the pub one night when inspiration hit. Unfortunately for him, it was a near hit - a turning car nearly cleaned him up as he crossed the road, despite lights on the back and front of his bike.
“I thought of some sort of light shield around a bike so motorists can see you.”
He limped in to the pub with his new bike bent out of shape, a hole in his jeans, a gash on his knee, and an idea in his head.
Twelve months later and Burns' idea for a safer bike light is prototyped and ready for production. He's taking on a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to fund the tooling and first run of DING bike lights.
"I met up with this friend of a friend at the pub, another engineer. He was laughing at the hole in my pants,' Burns says.
"I was not a big bike rider at that point. I'd ride to town with my wife in the afternoon or take the bike track to work once or twice a month. But this guy at the pub said it's quite common, riding at night near cars, you take your life in your own hands."
Burns, like a true mad inventor, started scribbling ideas on a coaster.
"The sketch was a joke really – I thought of some sort of light shield around a bike so motorists can see you."
Burns is an engineer specialising in automotive design and lighting. He moved to South Australia from the United Kingdom in 2005, where he designed lights for Jaguar and Landrover. He also won a Rhodes Masters first prize for his work on rapid manufacturing systems.
He was headhunted by Futuris Automotive to work on the Holden VE program, before moving to Lightforce Australia in 2008. He won them two Australian Design Awards, once for the PRED9X rifle mounted LED light, and again for the 4WD Venom Driving Light.
In short, he knows how to make a light.
Burns had left the idea for DING idle for around four months when he came across some interesting optical lenses, new to the market.
"I was doodling around with some optics when I found one that gave a rectangle shape of light. That's usually used in streetlights. I thought, with a slight modification, this could make my safer bike light."
“I made up a prototype after messing around with some circuit boards and LEDs. I rode it to a friend’s house. He got his neighbours out and they said it was like Back to the Future – a futuristic light beam flying down a street at night.”
The two beams within the one light makes the rider visible from all angles, whilst also giving the rider more light in more places, making for a more comfortable night ride experience. The DING bike light also has the motorist in mind with forward glare reduction built into the two forward LED optics.
When the prototype looked like a hit, Burns started to dedicate his efforts to turn it in to a fully-fledged product. He’s spent the last eight months taking it from design to reality.
He’s had some hiccups along the way – the name DING comes from something that hasn’t made the final cut.
“I thought I had a great little idea – putting a bell on it as well. I thought it could be the Swiss Army Knife for bike lights. I had a bell, a forward beam and a downward beam, all in one light. Hence the name DING,” Burns explains.
After sending around some prototypes to bike shops and media, general opinion was that it didn’t quite work – the all-inclusive DING was bordering on a gimmick when the core idea was already strong enough.
DING is the result of a lot ideas, not all of which made the cut. Even though Des Burns begrudgingly dropped the attached bell, the name DING stuck.
He also received feedback that the handlebar mount wasn’t up to scratch. It was a scorching summer weekend in South Australia, but Burns took it back to the shed and redesigned the whole system.
““I sent a few images of the redesigned mount to the magazine the following Monday. They asked if that’s a design concept I had before – I said, no, I took it and redesigned completely over the weekend."
"They were surprised by how quickly I redesigned it. It’s all about letting go of a design concept that is not adding value. Don’t look back, but go forward with new thinking. I just ran with their advice and presented a new design back to them,” Burns says.
The DING is ready for production. If it reaches its funding goal on Kickstarter – for which it’s well on its way – Burns will immediately get his tools cut and start manufacturing.
All of DING’s manufacturing is planned to take place in South Australia. In fact, Burns and his wife are likely going to be on the assembly line themselves.
“My wife is a scientist at Flinders University. Her contract finishes later in the year and we’re going to be there, putting these parts together.”
Burns is Managing Director of Design Brains, a consultancy that he says routinely gets ‘the hard ones’.
“When a client doesn’t know what they want, I often start from a blank piece of paper. They bring me an idea or problem and I go away and make some quick 3D schemes and a little rendered 3D video of the product or solution."
"They see it, they see where I’m coming from and that’s how I win business. I try and get their ideas out of their head. I also specialise in making full working prototypes of the designs so the customer can review, test and get direct market feedback before committing to the costly commercialisation stages.”
He also does design work for Lightforce Australia still. In fact, he thinks, it might influence the DING design a little too much.
“Mine is probably too bright for commuters, but they can change the lighting mode. My work at Lightforce is all about making LEDs go a long distance for rifles or cars.”
The final design of the DING all comes back to that critical moment – when Des Burns was almost hit by a car in the dark of night. His ‘shield of light’ is a simple design at its heart – but fairly brilliant in what it can do.
“I thought, why has no one done this before?”