Here at Esurance, we’ve been following the Google Glass conversation pretty closely. Will it end distracted driving or amplify it? Should Glass be banned while driving? The debate continues.
But what if the same technology behind Glass is used to help motorcyclists maneuver more safely on the road? Does that change the conversation? Since May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, it seems like the perfect time to explore the possibilities.
The Skully helmet
Though still in beta testing (they should be available later this year), the Skully AR-1 helmet is getting a lot of buzz. Using a heads-up display (HUD) similar to Google Glass, it provides easily accessible information to riders.
But, unlike Google Glass, which provides full internet access, Skully helmets are restricted to:
- A 180-degree rearview camera
- GPS maps and navigation
- Bluetooth connectivity for phone and streaming music access
Here’s how they work:
The helmet is DOT certified and has won several awards for innovation, including the SXSW Accelerator Award and DEMOgod Award.
So, does that mean it’s safer than a traditional helmet? Or does it create the same driving distractions as Google Glass?
The benefits of a “smart” helmet
As the first-of-its-kind integrated smart HUD helmet, Skully is taking motorcycle safety to the next level. And it’s got a lot to offer.
It helps riders keep their eyes on the road
The 180-degree camera provides a nearly complete view of the rider’s surroundings. Rather than turning their heads to check blind spots, riders can simply glance down at the HUD to see if anyone’s coming. That quick flick of the eyes is much faster than a turn of the head — and that means more of the rider’s time is spent looking at the road.
It’s well designed
To avoid visual obstruction, the designers positioned the heads-up display outside of the rider’s main field of vision. And, even though the display is within inches of the driver’s eye, it appears about 20 feet away in order to minimize the amount of refocusing the eye needs to do.
According to the company’s CEO, Marcus Weller, giving users a familiar experience helps them get comfortable with the technology faster. The display is placed in the lower right corner of the helmet to mimic where riders would look when checking their side mirrors.
Turn-by-turn audio directions aren’t new. But they are helpful. Imagine you’re trying to find a street while also navigating through traffic. You take your eyes off the road for a few seconds to squint at a street sign … and boom! That’s exactly what happened to Weller and ultimately what led to this device.
The potential downside of augmented reality helmets
It’s clear that Skully puts safety first, but in an effort to keep up with the demands of a connected culture, they may be adding unnecessary distractions.
In all fairness, this feature isn’t unique to Skully. Many helmets are now Bluetooth enabled, allowing riders to answer phone calls while riding. But the Skully helmet also allows for voice-controlled texting, what could be considered an unnecessary cognitive distraction.
Simply put, the human brain isn’t programmed to multitask. When you’re talking on the phone or mentally composing a text message, your mind is elsewhere. You may see what’s happening in front of you, but you’re likely not processing it.
In fact, after collecting over 30 reports and studies, the National Safety Council surmised that they all showed the same results, proving “hands-free phones offer no safety benefit when driving.”
Skully says they plan to offer open software kits so developers can design apps for the helmet. Sure, it’s cool and innovative. But is it taking safety into account? Will the AR-1 basically become Google Glass?
The helmet doesn’t currently create a major visual distraction, but, as more apps are added, riders may be tempted to glance at (or even linger on) the display more often.
The Skully helmet’s benefits would seem to outweigh its detriments. Yes, perhaps removing some functionality would make the helmet safer, but riders, like drivers, have a choice. Just because the helmet offers access to calling and texting doesn’t mean riders have to engage with it.
Whether connected helmets are a good idea or bad idea, they’re certainly getting attention. And that could be a very good thing. Helmet usage is currently in decline, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 2012 saw yet another increase in motorcycle fatalities.
If Skully can create a helmet that people want to wear, it could go a long way in bringing these numbers down. And there’s certainly nothing bad about that.
Protect yourself and your bike
At Esurance, safety is a priority. Though we don’t offer smart helmets, we can provide you with a smarter, more efficient approach to insurance. Get a motorcycle quote and help protect your bike, helmet, your other motorcycle accessories and, of course, yourself.