Runbell is the brainchild of Kevin and Tomoko Nadolny, a husband and wife team living in Tokyo, Japan. Seeking artisan-level metalwork, in July 2013 they started working with Ohgi Industries, Japan's finest bell maker, to develop the device. To fund the project, they launched their first Kickstarter campaign in May 2014 with an ambitious goal of $20,000. They met—and then exceeded—their goal, attracting almost 700 supporters. Since then, numerous magazines and television shows have run feature stories on Runbell, including the Today Show and The Gadget Man. It has also become a phenomenon among its loyal customers.
The birth of Runbell coincided with the birth of Kevin and Tomoko’s first child. Kevin explains: “My son was born, and all of a sudden I had a lot less time on my hands. To maintain my fitness regimen while juggling the demands of work and fatherhood, I started jogging back and forth to the office every day.”
It would prove to be a life-altering decision.
The streets of Tokyo are constantly bustling with crowds, which can be a menace to any jogger. Amid the noise and commotion, Kevin discovered that a gentle "sumimasen"—or “excuse me”—often doesn't work, and anything more aggressive is considered rude.
Kevin describes the solution he found: a Universal bike bell. “With my bicycle bell in hand, I could warn and pass pedestrians no matter which route I took home. It worked so well that I ran with one for a couple of years before the concept for Runbell was born.”
Eventually, however, the bike bell proved to be awkward to carry and difficult to operate. Kevin says, “I loved the idea, but the reality of it was problematic. After just one ring, the bell would rotate around my fingers. The grip and the striker were awkward. It just didn’t work that well, so I started sketching designs for something better.”
Soon, Runbell was born. It solved the major problems of the bike bell; Runbell’s double rings stabilize the device on your fingers, and the gentle tone of brass keeps pedestrians alert and happy.
Kevin knew what he wanted, but he wasn't sure of the next step. “I installed Rhino modelling software, and watched dozens of YouTube tutorials. Soon, I was making 3D models of my concept.”
The first prototype—and all subsequent models—were created with a 3D printer. “At the time, no 3D printing companies existed in Japan, so we had to fly our models in from Belgium.”
Runbell owes much credit to http://i.materialise.com/
Kevin says, “We had a working prototype, but not much else. The next step was to find someone to help us fabricate the product.”
The team searched on Amazon for Japanese-made bells. “I saw two that I liked,” Kevin says. “The Yamabiko bell and the Crane bell. I bought two Yamabiko bells, but I couldn't find a Crane Bell in Japan.”
The Yamabiko bells from Amazon arrived in the mail a few days later, and Kevin was enthusiastic. “They were great! I translated the company information on the back so I could locate the facility. It took me about an hour to figure out the Japanese characters to input into Google Maps. Actually, my wife—who is Japanese—ended up just telling me.”
In a stroke of luck, the team discovered the company—Ohgi Industries—was located right across the river from their house. “We can literally see their workshop from our balcony,” Kevin says. “We called and set up a time to meet, and that first meeting was fun! Tomoko and I pitched Runbell for the first time.”
In another stroke of luck, Kevin and Tomoko discovered that the two bells he had liked—Crane Bell and the Yamabiko Bell—were actually manufactured by the same company under different brand names. “It was awesome,” Kevin says. “Our partnership was underway.”
The first metal prototype of Runbell arrived in November of 2013. Unfortunately, the ring thickness was too fat, and the steel was heavy. The bell on top made a nice loud sound, but it was enormous. Kevin went back to work designing something smaller.
Kevin explains the design difficulty, “On a large bell, the striker can hit the bottom of the dome. When the bell is smaller, the striker must be more accurate, and must strike on the side. We adjusted the bell and striker locations over many iterations.”
At this time, the team started modelling bell domes in 3D, as well. Each component of Runbell required optimization to fit perfectly.
Next, Kevin and crew had to decide on the size of the finger grips. “We decided to slightly oversize Runbell so that any runner could use it. At this same time, we ordered samples of the silicone inserts.”
With the ring sizes fixed, the team chose a spot to mount the striker next to the rings. This let them fix the size of the bell dome. Kevin explains, “The smallest bell dome that rang loudly enough was about 25mm, or one inch in diameter. We made our bell domes slightly larger, at 27mm. This size fit perfectly with the ring and striker, and it made a bright, clear sound.”
Now the team had a sleek, stylish concept. They 3D printed it in plastic, and continually refined the design. Then as a last step, they printed a final prototype in brass.
Since its introduction, Runbell has caused a sensation. Runners love the device, because it lets them signal their presence in congested areas. Pedestrians appreciate Runbell, as well, because it offers a crisp, polite warning of a runner’s approach.