Over the past few years, we've seen plenty of smart motorcycle helmets come to the crowdfunding scene. Some have flown too close to the sun, promising extensive smarts through augmented reality, while others' smart capabilities stretch as far as Bluetooth connectivity. As a result, most fall short of the mark.
Looking to right the wrongs of previous campaigns, though, is Minnesota startup Quintessential Design. Currently offering three designs of its Quin Helmet – the Ghost, Spitfire and McQ – through Kickstarter, ranging from $240 to $420, the company has already passed its goal and is aiming to ship to backers in late September.
And instead of emphasising futuristic smarts, Quintessential is focusing on the fundamentals. Wearers will still get Bluetooth built in and be able to take calls, listen to music and get map readouts, but at the heart of the Quin Helmets is safety – something it's aiming to improve through crash detection and an SOS feature.
"It all started with someone who was a mutual friend of a couple of people on the team who was involved in an early morning crash on a Harley Davidson," Quintessential Design's founder and head of innovation, Anirudh Surabhi, told us.
"He was just cruising along, took a turn, went across some gravel and had an accident. But it was one of those situations where he couldn't get to his phone, and there was nobody around. That caused him to wait for around 40 minutes before receiving help. Even to this day he's still not 100% healthy, he has brain damage, and the doctors say that it could have been avoided if he was brought to the hospital earlier.
"I think that was one of our starting points. We realised that you have your phone, you have something that can tell when you've experienced a certain amount of force, so we decided to put that together and create the crash detection feature and our helmets."
That crash detection, Surabhi says, will count on the helmet's in-built accelerometer to gauge up to 100 g-force, with significant force putting the feature into motion. Once detected, the helmet then clicks in its two-step authentication, checking if the connected smartphone also experienced the limit of its accelerometer (roughly 8 g-force), before rolling out its crash protocol.
Users have the option to cancel the detection if it's a false positive, with the aim to distinguish between bumps in the road and genuine crashes.
Within that, the emergency services can also be contacted as part of the five numbers stored within the companion app, which means vital information such as the time of the crash, location, allergies and blood type can all be accessed by paramedics.
However, while the company's IntelliQuin crash detection is the feature that will keep users safe in scenarios like the one outlined by Surabhi earlier, there's also the SOS Beacon feature, which users can put into action themselves.
"In developing countries, for example, women riding on bikes is a very dangerous thing," Surabhi continued. "They get harassed, they get followed. So we thought that the SOS feature would be handy for people to send a live location to their saved numbers, while the microphones on the helmet and the phone can also be set to start recording ambient noise around you, meaning you have everything logged just in case you need to call back to it.
"Connectivity still depends on your phone, but our helmet battery life is around 60 hours on standby, with that still being around eight hours in continuous talk time. If the app realises the helmet isn't connected, too, you'll get a notification on your phone."
Blazing its own trail
We've seen devices such as the Skully and CrossHelmet (due in late 2018) find huge funding through Kickstarter in the past, but despite many failing to live up to billing, the Quintessential Design founder is confident that all three of its models will be available around its shipping target of September, and explained why its foregoing the futuristic smarts for now.
"It's still a relatively untapped area, and we're trying to emphasise the most important thing: safety. You have all these helmets, whether it's from Skully or Borderless, and all these companies are creating ultra-futuristic helmets that are giving users things that they're not really trained to use yet," Surabhi said.
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"Take Google Glass, for example. The initial advertisements showed it with all this information being ambient and around the wearer, but when you try it on you realise it's just a small screen in your eye. We feel like it's a similarly poor user experience in smart helmets. It's just not there yet, and so we just wanted technology inside it that is tried and tested."
On the other end of the scale, Surabhi is also keen to avoid a feature of other smart helmets, whereby modules are attached on the outside of the mould. All three models will instead feature the smart elements built into the design.
There's every reason to be sceptical of smart motorcycle helmet campaigns after the stain that Skully left on the market, though this does appear to be a different proposition to those that have gone before. Instead of dealing in vapourware, Quintessential Design is instead stripping things back and focusing on mastering more developed methods of safety technology.
It's also far along in its own process, with tooling, development and testing all completed. That's along with the companion app, which Surabhi noted is roughly 90% of the way to being finished. Once the Kickstarter campaign is completed (its funding goal of $30,000 has already been doubled), the team will simply push the button and begin the three-month mass production cycle before shipping to backers in late summer.
And while we can't speak too much to the design and feel of the three helmets being offered by the startup, the fact that it's been able to develop options for different budgets and needs (the Ghost, for example, can even be used on race tracks) will only help it appeal to more riders looking for a smart alternative to their standard helmet.
Whether it's truly able to help the space take a forward step remains to be seen, but the signs are certainly positive for this startup.
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