What does Android have to do with motorcycle safety?

One enthusiast has invented a new helmet to improve motorcycle safety, and is relying on Android to get it done.

After a motorcycle accident in Barcelona, Skully Helmet CEO and founder Marcus Weller discovered that adding a heads-up display to a motorcycle helmet controlled by Android would protect him and other riders from road hazards.

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Android’s openness makes it a first choice for this technology because the source code, device drivers, and a wide range of differently priced hardware are available.

The Skully helmet is designed to improve the rider’s focus by reducing the need to turn his or her attention from the road ahead. A compact Android device running Android Jelly Bean 4.1 is integrated into the helmet with a rear-facing camera and an optical combiner that projects onto a virtual heads-up display. The rider wouldn’t know that Android is behind all this, but would just reap the benefits of the helmet’s automatic and voice-operated features.

The helmet is the product of multiple iterations of design, beginning with a duct-taped prototype. To prevent his next accident, Weller set out to transform the motorcycle helmet without transforming the driver.

"The Skully helmet should protect the rider operating a motorcycle naturally without forcing new behaviors," Weller says.

The fish-eye rear camera captures a 180-degree view of everything, beginning at the edge of the rider’s peripheral vision, providing a flattened ear-to-ear rear-view perspective on the heads-up display. The heads-up display projection floats transparently at what appears to be six meters away outside of the rider’s main field of vision. The heads-up display incorporates an infinite focus, so when the rider looks out to the horizon, the projected image appears to be proportionately large, and when the focus changes to near, the image appears to be proportionately small. Enhanced rear-view vision eliminates the rider needing to turn his or her attention from the road ahead to check for advancing traffic before safely changing lanes, turning or stopping.

The helmet uses voice recognition commands to turn the heads-up display on or off, change the brightness, use navigation, listen to music or answer a phone call.

In the design process, Skully pared down the voice-initiated navigation to just the essentials for driving a motorcycle. A directional cue and text is projected on the heads-up display to signal a turn accompanied by voice notification. In this use case, there is no reason to project an entire map, just turn-by-turn directions. Because of the high level of ambient road and exhaust noise that would interfere with the reliable operation of semantic voice recognition, Skully Helmet chose a restricted grammar voice command system.

The rider uses voice recognition to make phone calls. The identity and image of incoming callers are projected on the heads-up display. Incoming calls can be answered or rejected with voice commands.

Music can be played using a combination of voice commands and a handle bar-mounted control to increase/decrease volume and change tracks.

Because the helmet is Android-powered, new applications can easily be added, such as an app using the gyroscope to give the rider visual feedback of the motorcycle’s orientation. New versions of Android can be installed through over-the-air updates, and components can be exchanged with more capable apps. Keeping in mind that this helmet is really a wearable, Android will prove to be an advantage, opening the possibility for Skully Helmet to incorporate technologies developed by others as this category evolves.

It's an exciting product for motorcycle riders. But, for the time being, the helmet has not yet been priced, so stay tuned.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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