The Case For The Virtual Reality Helmet

There’s no question that Virtual Reality is going to change the way we do everything. 2016 is touted as a pivotal year, with at least 3 large companies delivering affordable devices.

There are a couple of tweaks needed to make this mainstream, however. Firstly we need a way to untether the interface (Head Mounted Display, or HMD) from the computer. Or increase the compute power of an untethered HMD, currently a smartphone. Wireless has to be the way to go here, but there’s an immediate and obvious challenge…

…Power. Any untethered HMD needs power to run the display, which in turn means it needs a battery.

VR Helmet

My solution for this, and another HMD problem: Front-heavy, uncomfortable displays, is a light-weight helmet.

Consider the motorcycle helmet. Mine is a mere 1.3 kgs, with a plush comfort liner. You can easily wear this for hours, and many motorcyclists and race drivers do. (10 – 12 is my max so far) Helmets already comprise years of research for comfort and wearability.

Shell

For a VR helmet you could lighten the shell with ventilation, as you don’t need crash protection.

Power

The helmet allows you to place a battery on the rear, enabling far better balancing options.

Display Visor

You could design the display into the visor, so someone could literally flip it up and transition back to the real world. I imagine this to use technology similar to the Avegant Glyph, that reflects a projected image, rather than having a display mounted in front of the eyes.

Furthermore a helmet prevents one of the biggest distractions to immersion in VR, light leakage. Once you close the visor, you’ll be in the experience without any extraneous light.

The visor itself would provide a far great FoV increasing peripheral vision and the sense of immersion.

Sound

For maximum immersion you can embed decent, noise cancelling speakers in a helmet. E.g. My bike helmet already has integrated speakers. In a VR helmet you could even install surround sound speakers to enhance the experience.

Branding

Finally, consider the branding opportunities. From StarWars to Halo, there are helmet designs that aficionados will pay premium prices for.

Who wants to co-design this with me?

 

The AR Motorbike Helmet. Really?

AR Motorbike Helmet
The upcoming HUD. Photo courtesy Autoevolution

The promise of commoditised Augmented Reality is nigh. Everywhere you look there are AR applications, AR glasses, and if you're a motorcyclist like me, there's the promise of the AR Helmet. Even here in Australia we have a great AR Helmet start-up Forcite Helmets, whom currently produce smart helmets for action sports.

But all the current helmets are doing is shifting the location of information closer to the eye. However, all this does is reduce latency. And for the price, not very much. A Skully AR-1 for U$1500, or the IC-R [price TBA] helmet allows you to save the half-second it takes to look at your speedo, or rearview mirrors.

Of course their argument is “How much is your life (or licence) worth?” If that half-second saves you from being rear ended, it's probably money well spent.

Far Enough

Does this go far enough?

Why limit yourself to the constraints of old technology: The speedometer or rearview mirror.

As someone who rides 20k – 25k km's (12k – 16k miles) per year, I change my helmet roughly every 2 years. Sometimes more regularly. I know that many people only change every 10 years, but they probably don't do the same mileage as me.

At that cadence the cost isn't worth simply replacing old tech with a digital proxy. It's hard enough justifying $500 for a lid never mind $1500. Especially when that digital proxy is limited by battery life. I often ride for 6 hours or more. Even when commuting at home it's annoying when my BT headset goes flat on the way to work because I hadn't charged it for a week. Imagine that was my rear vision capability?

So what features would be worth the cost?

Actual Safety Requirements

The most common motorbike accident is the SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You). This is where someone pulls out from a side road in front of an oncoming bike. Also where people cut you up in traffic. They change lanes and simply didn't see you. Hence the name.

The second most common is attributed to 'Single Vehicle Accidents.' Essentially coming in too hot on a corner. There are probably more occasions of other vehicles contributing to these, I've often come around the corner to face a car or truck on the wrong side of the road.

Nevertheless both of these most common accidents require forewarning far more than rear vision. (It helps to know where things are behind you so you can manoeuvre though)

Sensory Addition

Imagine being able to 'see' in infrared as well as the visible spectrum? So you could 'see' the engine heat of a vehicle at a hidden road junction. Imagine the bike had LIDAR, so it could warn of impending motion.

Imagine that LIDAR 'saw' in 360 and informed you perhaps via a 3D soundscape. That would add to my mirrors rather than replace them. So I could 'hear' the proximity of cars around me, or through haptic acuators, 'feel' them.

Imagine that you could have the ideal line tracking on your NED (Near Eye Display) in green, changing to amber then red if you're riding too fast for road conditions. As well as the upcoming map. Like on Forza Motorsport

Map and Driving Line from Forza
Your ideal track with speed & map. Photo courtesy www.gamergirlsunite.com

Imagine this system able to 'look' around corners. Made more intelligent with the combined insight of current weather, traffic, roadworks, and the history of every bike that had ever ridden that road.

Now that would be a helmet system worth spending the money on.

 

The Ultimate Guide To A Great Ride

The Ultimate Guide To A Great Ride

So you finally wrested permission from the significant financial controller in your life, or are banking on “Forgiveness is easier than permission,” and have bought yourself a motorbike. Or you’re about to. Either way, you plan on firing her up and heading out to the open road.

Firstly, congratulations!! Welcome to the club. For the most part we’re a very social group of people, and you’ll make new friends pretty much everywhere you park your bike. There’s something about sharing near death experiences that builds camaraderie.

Whilst there are heaps of sites that review the best motorcycle gear, (I’ll link to the best of them below.) this guide is to highlight pivotal items you may not have thought of that change every a good ride into a great ride!

1. Mounting Things – The Quadlock Case & Handlebar Mount

Quadlock Mount MultistradaQuadlock Case & Handlebar Mount (Link gives you 10% discount)

Chances are you have a smartphone. Fantastically enabling technology for the motorcyclist. On the bike you’ll want to use that for everything from podcasts to music, and navigation to location sharing to route tracking. Not to mention selfie videos, tour photos, and communication.

Having it with you in your jacket pocket makes for a good ride, but for a great ride, until we have affordable AR helmets, you’ll want your phone mounted on the handlebars.

The best tool for this, bar none, is the Quadlock Case and Bike Stem MountHere’s why: 

Flexibility

The mount attaches to the handlebar with 2 zip ties. I.e. it’s easy to mount on just about any motorcycle. I’ve used this on BMW G650, F700, & R1200 GS; the Honda Goldwing & ST1300; a Royal Enfield Bullet 500; and  2 Ducati Multistradas.

I have one permanently on my Multi, and a spare I take with me overseas whenever I rent a bike.

Durability

Designed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers, the phone is locked in place with a spring clip. Nothing will dislodge it. Take it from someone who has used these over 60,000 kms across the Himalaya’s, through Death Valley, down to Philip Island, and up to John O’Groats. Neither the roughest terrain, nor torrential downpours have impacted my last three phones (iPhone 5, 6, & 6s+)

Extensibility

Once you have the case, Quadlock produce easy lock mounts for your car, tripod, arm, and belt. And they have an adhesive mount you could stick anywhere: on a desk, a wall, a dashboard. So you simply take it off the bike, and mount it anywhere you need to.

Remember to get your 10% discount here: http://quadlock.refr.cc/SQKF2ZQ

2. Hearing Things – The Sena SMH-10 Bluetooth Headset

IMG_0430The Sena SMH-10 Bluetooth Headset

Every ride is a good ride, but for a great ride you’ll want to keep eyes on the road, and still connect to people, information and entertainment. The most effective way to do this is through sound.

The best tool for this is with helmet integrated Bluetooth Headset. The most effective I’ve found is the Sena SMH-10 which I’ve used since September 2012. Although Sena has since been superseded this with the 20S, and 10C, I still use the SMH-10 Here’s why:

Versatility

The Sena will fit pretty much any helmet. You can get both clamp or adhesive mounts, wired or boom mics (good for open face or modular helmets), inset speakers, or a jack for ear buds (you may want ear mold speakers for wind noise mitigation).

Sharing

To my knowledge this is the only BT headset that pairs with every other brand. My experience is that whilst many riders have BT headsets, often others use Scala, or Bauhn (ALDI), or other brand. If you have the Sena you can still connect a BT intercom with them.

Clarity

Apart from navigation, podcasts, and music, I use this as an intercom, to send and receive texts (thanks Siri) and to take calls. Everybody who calls me is surprised when I tell them I’m on the bike. The automatic noise control on the microphone is that good.

Usability

I get 12 hours of life from a single charge. That’s 1.5-2 days on tour, and 5 days of commute at home. Also I have two modules, so it’s easy to pull over at the I5/I405 junction and swap out the flat one.

The jog dial is easy to use even wearing the thickest winter gloves.

I’ll be honest though, I am considering the 10C and combining a helmet cam with the BT headset. Or I might just wait for the IC-R Augmented Reality Helmet.

3. Comfortable Things – Shark Explore-R Helmet

You need a helmet, and there are many great helmets to choose from. Since Aug 2014, after 4 years riding with another 5 helmets, I settled on the Shark Explore-R Carbon. I also recommend any Shark helmet, and specifically the Vision-R for road riders. Here’s why:

Designed for Headsets

All the new Shark Helmets are designed to integrate with the Sharktooth BT headset. This means there are indents behind the lining for speakers, and indents for cable management. Genius. (& comfortable). These indents work perfectly with the Sena range. That means you don’t have pressure on your ears, or an irritating cable rubbing on the back of your neck.

Seeing things

Both the Explore-R and Vision-R (which share the same shell) have the most visibility of any full face helmet on the market. The peripheral visibility on this helmet is out of this world.

Versatility

Again with the versatility. (Do you spot a trend for me here?) When off-road, or in the mountains, or in winter with low sun, you’ll want a peak & goggles (actually great in the rain too).

When on the track, or in the twisties, you’ll want an Iridium Visor.

At night, or in winter, you might want a clear visor. Perhaps with pinlock.

And when you ride a lot, you’ll want the lightest helmet out there. 10 hours on a dirt track amplifies every 100g of helmet weight.

The Explore-R Carbon provides all this.

But don’t take my word for it. This is deemed the safest and most comfortable helmet in Australia.

4. Tracking Things – GPS Trackers

You know what makes a good ride a terrible one? When you break down, witness, or worse, have an accident and can’t be located. And you don’t have to go very far at all to be hard to find. Most good rides are where roads are twisty, which tend to be in hilly, inaccessible country.

On the other hand, peace of mind for your significant other, wherever you may be on the planet, contributes to (more) great rides.

Glympse

Since 201o I’ve used Glympse on my iPhone to provide real time location tracking.  This is a great app for multiple riders meeting and riding together. You can easily where everyone is if you split up, and can co-ordinate meet-ups etc. Whilst this is fine for urban riding, it isn’t robust enough for long tours.

SPOT

In 2012, I rode my first international, multi-day tour, and knew there would be many times I’d be out of cellular range. This is where the SPOT Personal Tracker came in. This uses the GPS signalling channel to update your position, which can then be fed to a Google map. Once there you can embed the map on your website for anyone anywhere to see you in near real time.

The SPOT also allows you to save mobile numbers & social media accounts for “I’m OK,” and “I need assistance” messages. This is great to contact people even if they aren’t tracking you. And it has an SOS button that will contact Global Emergency Operations Services, who in turn will contact Local Rescue or fly a chopper in if there isn’t a local rescue service.

Spotwalla

Whilst the SPOT is a great device (I still use the Gen 2) the subscription is expensive, and the company really poor to deal with. Also their website needs a major overhaul. They don’t keep your tracks beyond a couple of months. So I use Spotwalla, a free service that allows you to set up all sorts of devices and tracks. They also keep your history in perpetuity, so you can see all my trips for:

Motion-X GPS

Sometimes even SPOT doesn’t guarantee signal. Like in India. Which doesn’t bode well for tracking your ride there. As it turned out I took my SPOT to the Himalayas, and it worked fine. But as a contingency I used the Motion-X GPS app, saved the track, sent this to my Gmail account where I used a combination of IFTTT and Wappwolf rules to get the data to my blog. Here I used the WP-GPX-Maps plugin to embed my daily route on the web.

This took a little effort to set-up, but once done, every day was automated. I simply started Motion-x on my iPad Mini, chucked it in my backpack, and at the end of the day saved and emailed the track to my gmail account.

Actually Motion-X is a phenomenally powerful piece of software. You can download maps from any provider. It connects to GPS so doesn’t need to be in cell range to work, and provides many features of expensive handheld GPS’ like. If you do nothing else, download this software, and use it to track your rides.

5. Remembering Things – Action Cameras

What’s the point of riding alone? For a ride to qualify as great it must be shared.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t found the optimum solution here. I have tried many solutions and have hundreds of hours of video. But to date none meet all the criteria for seamless, safe, easy to mount, easy to manage, great video.

I’ve had a Contour + ROAM2 helmet mounted camera; a couple of GoPros (Hero 3+ Black, 4 Silver); and the Liquid Image Torque 369 HD Goggles.

The Contour was designed to attach to a helmet, which you can do with the GoPro. As soon as you attach a camera to a helmet, however, you add weight, it’s unsightly, potentially illegal, and depending on how you land in an off, could be dangerous.

Current cameras also add hassle before a ride with alignment and ensuring batteries are charged. During a ride you’re either constantly deciding whether to record something, or recording everything which makes editing a nightmare later.

From an aesthetic & safety perspective, the Torque goggles are the best . There are no protruding bits and the camera is positioned between your eyes. But it’s tough to find a road oriented helmet, even a dual-sport helmet with a big enough viewport (enter the Explore-R). Even so, these goggles significantly constrain peripheral vision, which is ok at 25kph in the Himalayas, not so much at 120kph on the Pacific Coast Highway.

You can mount the GoPro on the bike, but I’ve found no place is ideal, easy or cheap. In fact you’ll probably end up wanting to change it up during a ride for compelling video. Again a continual hassle.

All of the action cameras have ample battery life, and changeable batteries. Whereas the remote battery life is woeful. Great for a 10 minute run down the road, but for the 10 hour day from Leh over the Khardung La, not so much.

I think the best solution is probably the Innovv K-1 Motorbike Dash Cam. This dual-lens system is permanently mounted on the bike discretely front and back. As the primary purpose is for evidence in an incident or accident, the system includes an integrated GPS, is powered by the bike, and set to begin recording with the ignition. It also comes with a handlebar remote, wifi connectivity, and a smartphone app. The HD video from the device looks plenty good enough for ride recording. Which makes it the perfect system for your ride at home.

For touring I’m considering the Sena 10S as I have a BT system anyway, and the GoPro with a Quadlock mount or (homemade zip tie mounts) to clip the camera onto various bars on the bike.

Inside Your Helmet – The Power of Now

[youtube https:/www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOowm6qUr5c&w=800&h=480]

We all need solitude. A time apart. Someplace where we can go, and be who we are. Connected to the universe. Amongst, but alone.

A place where the distractions of the world: relationships, family, work, commitments, debts, aspirations, hopes, joys, sorrows, disappointments, lies, truths, are silenced. Where we can be the spirit, uncrowded by the noise of our intellectual and emotional self.

A place where we have to attend to the now. Where our survival depends on 100% of our focus. Weather, temperature, nature, motion, danger, sound, smell, vision, g-force, feel, taste, balance, calculation, emotion, all focused together in an opus on the split second of now.

Where there is no past, and there can be no future.

That place is inside a helmet.

You can feel it as you pull it on. The cheekpads snug against your face, enveloping your skull in a cushion. The neckstrap ratcheted against your neck.

Then as you accelerate out the driveway, no matter how far you ride, 2 minutes to get fuel, 30 commuting through a snarled motorway to work, or 12 hours across a continent, you feel it. As your senses contract to the now, your mind expands to the world, the universe, the muse.

You are alive.

You are.

I am.