Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
Feb 14th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Brake Through

Local student invents a new progressive brake light system

brakethrough1Many people claim to get their best ideas while driving. Peter Livingston certainly did.

It was in stop-and-go traffic that Livingston, now 18, got the bright idea for his first invention. The car in front of him had stopped quickly and he followed suit. However, the car behind him didn’t get the memo to brake abruptly, and the driver was forced to slam on his brakes, skidding to a dangerous halt.

 


“He didn’t hit me, but just hearing the screeching tires and thinking ‘oh no, I’m going to be hit’ made me realize that if he had known I had applied more [brake] pressure than usual, it wouldn’t have happened,” Livingston says.

And so the progressive break light system (PBLS) was born. With support from his college advisor and an electrical engineer, Livingston created a braking system that signifies to other drivers how hard the brake is being pushed. The system relies on a magnetic sensor beneath the break pad that responds to how close the brake comes to the wheel rim. This is then translated to the brake light, which is equipped with 72 light-emitting diodes, allowing a range in the amount of red light shown to indicate the level of braking. When slamming on the brakes, for example, the progressive brake light is fully illuminated. When lightly tapping on the brakes, a few bars of red light appear in the center.

brakethrough2
“What I would ideally want is for this to replace the existing third brake light,” Livingston says, leaning against the hood of his dark green Honda Accord. “Instead of having a light that turns on and off, this would be in its place.”

The idea seemed like such a no-brainer to Livingston that he was surprised to find no preexisting patents for it. He now has a provisional patent on the invention, which is not something many of his peers can say, only three months out of high school.

To think it all started with Legos. As a child, Livingston had huge tubs of the little plastic blocks and was dedicated to building models with them. The interest in building developed into a passion for engineering and technology that led him to create the PBLS.

“This is the first time I’ve built something that actually has a purpose and is more complicated and sophisticated,” he says, adding that fixing computers had been the height of his work in technology since his golden Legos days.

“It’s a considerable jump, but I didn’t go from Legos to this. There was a little bit of in between space … but not a whole lot,” he says with a smile.

Unlike with toy models, Livingston is proud to have devised something that is not only practical, but something that has the potential to save lives, too.

“It’s not ‘look I made this and it does this’ and that’s it. It has purpose. There are hundreds of thousands of rear end collisions every year, lots of deaths, lots of injuries. This can prevent so many of those. And it can save millions of dollars in car repair.”

For now there is just the one, car stereo-sized prototype sitting beneath his driver’s seat—working perfectly and ready for demonstrations, but yet to be replicated or sold. Livingston hopes to sell the idea eventually, but is momentarily preoccupied by his big move to UC Irvine this month, where he plans to pursue engineering. Rest assured, he’s not going to let the distractions of college life deter the future of the PBLS.

“I’m definitely not going to forget about it,” he says, planning to return to the project when he comes home for winter break. “If it turns out that the Department of Transportation doesn’t like it, or something else happens, I’ll say, ‘That’s fine, I’ve made something and that’s totally cool.’ But I definitely, definitely, definitely want to keep going with this until I can’t take it any farther.”

His determination to see the product fulfill its potential stems from a genuine desire to make a difference. He doesn’t want the recognition of running his own PBLS company (“I’ll be concentrating too much on college”), and isn’t confident that the idea will make him a millionaire (“Everybody’s sayin’ that. We’ll see.”). All he wants is to spot his invention doing its job on the road.

“I’m probably not going to see it on all cars, but to be able to say that I made that and I decreased rear end collisions, I decreased accidents, I saved lives, I saved injuries, and saved time and money … all sorts of things add up,” he says. “That would be amazing. And it’s possible.”

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of February 12

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Pub Watch

Mega gastro pub-in-progress at the Old Sash Mill, plus the best pasta dish downtown

 

How do you know love is real?

When you feel the groove in your heart and you’re inspired to dance. Becca Bing, Boulder Creek, Teacher

 

Temple of Umami

Watsonville’s Miyuki is homestyle cooking, Japanese-style

 

How would you stop people from littering?

Teach them from the time that they’re small that it’s not an appropriate behavior. Juliet Jones, Santa Cruz, Claims Adjuster