Against my better judgment, I never rode a helmet when I biked to campus in college. I didn’t want to deal with mussed-up hair, and I didn’t want to have to worry about how I was going to cart around my helmet all day — it was a matter of convenience, and going without a helmet always won.
In general, helmets are a pain, but they have the potential to save lives. A 2015 study by the University College Dublin found that bike helmets offer protection in low-velocity impacts and secondary impacts against the ground — and traumatic head injuries are the primary injury in cyclist fatalities.
So, how do you encourage people to actually wear their helmet? Enter the smart helmet revolution, a recent influx of all-in-one devices that are designed to protect your brain and offer a slew of other features, too.
Here are four notable smart helmet options that reflect our connected future. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
Smart Bike Helmet: Coros LINX
Want a helmet that combines the best features of smart earphones with the safety of a smart helmet? Coros LINX is a Kickstarter success story: the helmet is a top 1% funded campaign of all time, and the second most funded helmet of all time on the crowdfunding platform.
Priced at $199.99, the Coros LINX uses bone-conduction speakers, a microphone, and battery unit to create a dream package for bike riders: a helmet that allows them to listen to music, take calls, receive fitness updates, and even hear turn-by-turn directions without drowning out the sound of traffic and pedestrians. The helmet lasts at least 12 hours on a single charge, and it works with an app on your smartphone to set up routes, monitor your ride metrics, and more.
Smart Helmet: Sena INC Motorcycle Helmet
Motorcyclists face a unique issue while motoring down the open road: wind noise. Also known as “the amount of noise turbulence produced around the head while the rider is in motion,” according to Hearing Test Labs, wind noise is a major contributor to hearing loss in the motorcycle industry.
While some riders will turn to ear plugs for relief, they could drown out the sound of essential traffic cues. A smart helmet can save lives — and eardrums. The Sena INC Helmet covers all the bases by offering noise control features and four networked microphones, which will make it easy to hear vital sounds like traffic and sirens. The Ambient Mode feature also allows riders to hear clearly without removing their helmet.
Of course, noise cancellation isn’t enough to make a helmet truly “smart.” To that end, the SENA INC has Bluetooth connectivity, so you can take calls, listen to music, or talk to companions up to 1.2 miles away through the Group Intercom feature.
The Sena INC Helmet will be available in early 2017 for a base retail price of $799.
Smart Helmet Prototypes
In a way, augmented reality smart helmets already exist — they just aren’t ready for consumer applications yet. Last year, BMW made waves with the Motorrad VISION NEXT 100, a supervillain-esque vision of the next generation of motorcycles. Along with the reveal of a full-balance bike without a stand, BMW debuted a data visor that pairs with the Motorrad VISION NEXT 100, which is designed to display routes, a rear camera view, and other metrics the rider can select hands-free.
The idea, of course, is that the bike is safe enough to negate the need of wearing a full helmet. While BMW’s futuristic bike is still just a prototype, the technology that goes into the visor does exist: at CES earlier this year, DAQRI displayed their Smart Helmet, an augmented reality smart helmet that overlays data for industrial applications. An engineer can check on the pressure, temperature, and flow levels of water pipes at a glance; a worker can receive guided work instructions with an AR overlay. It’s a wild vision of a safer and more efficient workplace, and it’s available today.
Some companies attempting to build larger-than-life augmented reality helmets for consumers will crash and burn along the development journey. Skully is a prime example: last year, the crowdfunded startup officially shuttered after years of delays and financial trouble. Their smart helmet prototype offered a heads-up display, Bluetooth connectivity, and even GPS navigation, but $2,446,824 raised on Indiegogo wasn’t enough to get the product off the production floor.
Augmented reality displays are the logical next steps for smart helmets, but we may have to wait another few years until a consumer product is truly viable. But the current crop of experimental safety gear shows that helmets of the future won’t just protect your head — they’ll enhance all of your senses to increase your odds of arriving at your destination safely.