The Fly6 is a video camera for cyclists, integrated into an LED taillight. It’s simple by design: you keep it charged and switch it on when you go for a ride, it records everything happening behind you, and if there’s an incident you’ll have video evidence.
More broadly, it’s an intersection of two trends in Singapore: firstly, cycling is booming, both for fitness and transport. The growth in cycling seems to have been accompanied by an increase in traffic incidents and accidents, and many cyclists, frustrated by the apparent reluctance of police to prosecute motorists who cause accidents, are turning to technology as a solution.
The Fly6 wants a piece of this market, and its weapons are aggressive pricing and fairly innovative design. The price is really good: S$199 (available mid of this month) is a lot cheaper than other action cameras, although you do give up some functionality and quality.
Here’s where the second trend, the availability of cheap technology borrowed from smartphones, becomes important. The Fly6 is possible because of cheap and compact camera units, efficient video processing chips and memory technology, all originally developed for smartphones.
This stuff is now commodity hardware, which is great for us because it means small companies like Fly6 can build cool products, initially funded through crowd sourcing, without having to develop all the components themselves.
It also means there’s very little annoying proprietary technology here: the memory card, USB jack and video format are completely standard and user-friendly.
The Fly6 has an impressively shallow learning curve. Once you set the time & date on you are good to go! Once the camera is installed, you just hold the record button until it switches on, and get riding.
There’s no hassle with deleting video or managing the space on your memory card either: when the memory card is full, it simply starts recording over the top of the oldest video. Of course, if you want to record more video you can buy a larger MicroSD card.
To take video from the camera, you simply plug it into your computer’s USB jack with the supplied mini-USB cable, switch it on, and treat it like an ordinary USB drive. Alternatively you can remove the 8GB MicroSD card and stick it in a card reader.
First impressions on opening the Fly6 safety camera are good: the camera and its fitting are well presented and protected in foam, in a satin box.
Fitting the camera is easy. The box includes two plastic brackets (so you can use the Fly6 on two bikes), some rubber spacers (choose the correct one based on your seatpost angle) and some rubber straps to hold the whole thing in place. Fitting took me all of five minutes, including reading the instructions, and shifting it to a different bike would take seconds.
I was worried the camera wouldn’t fit on my road bike’s aero seatpost, but the manufacturers are way ahead of me and included a rubber spacer for exactly this purpose. Unfortunately, the requirement to attach the camera to your seatpost means that any substantial saddlebag is a non-starter, especially if you have the type that attaches to your seatpost.
Battery life is estimated at five hours from the lithium ion battery. In my test, I kept the Fly6 on a continuous recording loop with a 32GB card, and measuring against the time the recording stop (through the time-stamp), the Fly6 lasted a pretty impressive five hours and ten minutes, which most action cameras battery life can only deliver half that time
The Fly6 is not the most svelte piece of equipment, but it is intended to be seen and there is quite a lot of hardware inside the 105g unit. The red flashing LED light is more than adequately bright.
Ultimately, the Fly6 will succeed or fail based on its video quality. Good design and keen pricing are all well and good, but the video output must be fit for purpose. The Fly6 needs to be able to reliably capture the details of accidents or incidents. Ideally, this means capturing the number plate of the car that hit (or buzzed) you, so you can provide the video to the police.
The pre-production unit (Fly6 claimed it to be as close to the final build, though) I tested records 1280×720 pixel video at 30fps, using H.264 encoding and .AVI format. Almost any video editing software will be able to ingest it, and you can upload directly to YouTube or other sharing sites.
More serious action cameras will record higher resolutions and higher framerates (1080P at 60fps is common) but there are compromises to be made: they cost a lot more, chew up memory faster, and battery life suffers.
The video files are divided into 15-minute chunks of about 820MB each, so it’s pretty easy to find a specific point in a ride. The specifications all sound good and sensible, but how does the video actually look?
Well, the results of my testing are a bit of a mixed bag.
On smooth roads in good daylight, video is smooth and has adequate if not outstanding detail. It’s definitely not as detailed or high-res as a GoPro camera, but then it’s less than half the price. Besides, you’re not buying a Fly6 to make totally maxtreme viral videos for an energy drink company.
Unfortunately (perhaps not), during my testing most drivers were very considerate, and gave me a wide berth. This made it difficult to see their number plates, as by the time they were close enough for the Fly6 to show enough detail, they were towards the edge of the 130-degree wide-angle lens’ frame. The optical distortion at the edge of the lens is often enough to prevent reading the plates.
If a car is going to hit you, it will be much closer to the center of the frame, so this probably won’t be a problem, but I wasn’t willing to test it by swerving into traffic.
The Fly6 also tends to over-expose video, which may be a deliberate decision to make sure it captures events in the shadows, but it does result in overblown highlights, which obliterates detail on sunny days.
There is some occasional red flare from the LED light refracted through the housing, but this is at the edge of the frame and won’t interfere with recording accidents.
My other concern is that on anything less than buttery smooth bitumen, the road vibrations make reading a number plate difficult or even impossible. The Fly6 lacks image stabilisation, and while the roads in Singapore are generally smooth and well maintained, cyclists frequenting bumpy and poor conditioned roads should be aware.
I took the camera on my usual training loops along Changi Coastal Road and Seletar Road. These are both popular roads with local cyclists, and the road surfaces are a representative sample of the conditions encountered by most Singaporean riders.
On the rougher roads of Seletar, video is choppy and reading a number plate is extremely challenging. You will be able to see the car’s make, model and trajectory, but not much else. The experience at Changi Coast Road couldn’t be more different, as the smooth paved road allowed for better clarity of car number plates that zoomed past from behind. Check out other user videos on their website to make your own mind up on the quality.
If you already own an action camera, there’s really little incentive to get a Fly6 unit – you can get better quality video output with the GoPros and Sonys. Safety cameras like the Fly6 (in fact, it’s the only ready-for-market solution) on the other hand, are purposely made simple and seamless to operate as possible.
All in all, I’m quite impressed with the simplicity and how the Fly6’s seamless integration of a rear light and camera ‘just works’. While it lacks super bright LEDs and the ability to record 1,080p video, it doesn’t necessarily need them. It’s meant to watch your back, and it does that pretty well for a reasonable price.
Product is available from Mid June 2014
Retailing at : SGD $199
Interested readers and buyers can purchase this awesome Fly6 at these Bikeshop outlets :
A Bicycle Shop
462 Upper Serangoon Road
Tel : 6836 6566
833 Bukit Timah Road #01-11 Royalville
Tel : 64651597
Chapter 2 Cycle
451 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10 #01-1761
Tel : 64527168
Radstation Pte Ltd
1 Commonwelth Lane #01-04, One Commonwelth
Tel : 6473 4988
Do visit Fly6 webiste : https://www.fly6.sg