Modern helmets are very good, but BMW must think they aren’t quite what they could be. So at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, the German motorcycle brand is showcasing helmets with Heads Up Displays (HUDs)—oh, and bikes with laser beams. I love the future.
Let’s look at the latter item first, because I actually think it’s the most important.
Often, it’s the least sexy items that help us experience motorcycles best. While lots of people like to brag about horsepower or torque, the smart rider knows they can only ride as fast as they can stop—which makes having great brakes often far more important than tons of power.
Likewise, you can only ride as fast as you can see, which is why any adventure rider will tell you that uber-bright lights are must for any off-road trail riding that flirts with dusk.
BMW, calculated and measured brand that they are, know this and are adapting the laser light technology from their BMW 7 Series sedan and i8 for use in motorcycles - because being able to see where you’re going is really fucking cool. This comes as no surprise, as BMW were also the first to bring adaptive headlights that turned as the bike cornered, daytime LED running lights, and dynamic brake lights.
The laser lights emit a particularly bright and white-colored light, and BMW claims they project up to 600 meters—twice that of conventional headlights.
BMW says that, for now, laser light technology is too expensive to include in current production motorcycles, but that will change as the economy of scale brings prices down as they’re included in more automobiles.
On the car side, BMW and other automakers have had trouble getting laser lights certified as road legal in the U.S. It’s not clear yet how this could work for bikes here as well.
This definitely isn’t the first we’ve seen into the foray of HUD helmets, but with Skully still pushing back delivery dates and still not responding to questions from the press, they might be the first to make one you can buy - or at least they might use the extra time they’ve taken to do it well.
Unlike the two most well known players in the field (Skully and Nu-Viz), the BMW helmet uses a drop down screen that lands directly in the rider’s field of vision.
Display options will vary and be customizable, but available information will include things like speed, speed limit, gear selection, road signs, tire pressure, oil level, fuel level, and warnings of impeding dangers. Obviously, some of this will require a bike that they system can connect to.
This past October, we told you about how BMW, Honda, and Yamaha were teaming up to work together on some standardized protocols for Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication for motorcycles.
Short term, that will help for finding the best route with added traffic info, but long term it could let you know when someone is entering from a blindspot or braking suddenly.
This HUD would also take into account that information, providing warnings, navigation routing and re-routes through the screen, to better warn you of impending doom or just ways to shave a minute or two off your commute.
Additionally, BMW says the helmet will have both forward and rear facing cameras. The forward facing camera would be for taking pics/video of your journey or those days when you save a kitten from the middle of a busy intersection, while the rear would act as a digital rearview mirror.
The smartest move of all, or at least the one that will really separate it from the others (at least until we decide if it’s easier to ride with a screen in front of our eyes, at the bottom of our eye port, or not at all) is that the display will be controlled through a controller on the left handlebar.
It’s always bothered me that none of the current bluetooth helmet units (except Interphone) have had something like this. Fumbling with something with tiny buttons attached to your helmet has never and will never be easy.
BMW says it plans on developing this technology into a production model within the next few years.
Currently, all HUD helmets are still vaporware; none have made it to market. I got to wear the Skully helmet inside their offices a year and a half ago and, while I was impressed with their trying to keep the noise out and really make it something that actually made motorcycling safer - I wasn’t quite sold on their claims that the screen was the optimal way to reference information quickly (or that a screen inside your helmet was anything more than a distraction at all.)
The big question of whether this sort of technology makes riding safer will have to wait until we actually see these come to market, and likely until we see second and third generation units that are created using the feedback of real riders.