A heads-up display in a motorcycle helmet is a cool concept that has yet to make it to mass-market, mostly because of its tremendous complexity and cost. (One high-profile company’s alleged spending practices didn’t help either.) But that hasn’t stopped inventor Andrew Artishchev from dedicating himself to the idea, which he hopes will yield an HUD-equipped bike helmet you can buy in about a year.
Fighter jet pilots already enjoy the sensory-assault of digital numbers inches away from their faces with helmet HUDs, but those cost $400,000. A few companies, however, have added some digital gauges to snow sport goggles to a vaguely similar effect.
On the motorcycle side, BMW made a conceptual model of a HUD helmet for this year’s CES gadget show but hasn’t expressed much motivation in real development. Meanwhile, the best-known (and crowdfunded) augmented-reality-HUD-helmet startup Skully not only went bankrupt but the founders are now facing a lawsuit alleging they wasted their funding on strip clubs and absurd expenses.
That either makes it a tough time to get into the HUD-helmet business, or the perfect one, if you can actually deliver something others have promised.
As it stands, there are outfits like Fusar working on ways to “upgrade” existing helmets with digital displays of some kind (in fact Fusar is offering recompense to burned Skully investors) but none that seem earnestly grinding at a true HUD helmet.
That brings us to Artishchev and his company LiveMap.
Artishchev is an inventor and motorcycle enthusiast who told me he’s been trying to build an HUD-running-GPS into a roadworthy bike helmet for years, at his own personal expense of about $600,000. He explained that all the investment has produced two prototypes, the second of which he brought to California earlier this year to show off at some trade events.
He was kind enough to bring the device by my home office as well, where I tried it on to get a sense what the experience might feel like to a rider. The hardware consumed a significant portion of the helmet’s chin-area, but the projections of GPS navigation prompts were bright and clear.
Since the system is just resting in a mock-up shell, I can’t tell you what it’s like to actually ride with, but I can confirm it was able to produce sharp-enough images to see over the road outside my window. More so than a Google Glass wearable, for example.
Getting used to information floating in front of the path you’re riding through would take some getting used to, though. I personally pity the fool who thinks taking phone calls while riding a motorcycle is a good idea, but my friend and prolific motorcycle journalist Wes Siler seems to think an HUD GPS would be superior to handlebar-mounted or memorized directions while riding.
It’s all about riding style, I guess. Right now I’m into urban dirt biking and beach cruising. So; reigning terror in alleyways or sipping a beverage from a handlebar-mounted cupholder. Neither of these experiences is enhanced by arrows and numbers in my face, but I can see the appeal on a long-haul highway cruise or just a ride through a new city.
Here’s LiveMap’s explanatory sales-pitch to give you a better idea of how it’s supposed to work:
Artishchev’s first prototype beamed the graphic to the visor from a projector mounted on top of the helmet, but the bulk made it impractical. With the second iteration, this unit has been moved to the chin, pointing “up.”
The visor has an unusual shape, with flat parts for the image to hit. Artishchev says this will be gone with the next revision, which is supposed to be the last before the final product is ready to be worn by riders. The production visor will apparently offer a seamless lens that mitigates fog while catching the display projection.
As for the actual helmet, Artishchev is planning to use an unbranded carbon modular unit that weighs about three pounds with a flip-up front section from a facility in Indonesia. “The same factories that produce brand-name models,” he told me, adding that NDAs precluded him from giving out more detail on the producer.
Outsourcing the hard-parts would help LiveMap get around the significant burden of developing the safety-side of the helmet, the unit’s design is apparently already safety rated in the U.S., Europe and Japan. If that’s true, LiveMap should have no problem getting its helmet DOT-approved as long as the projection hardware fits into the existing helmet shape without messing with its actual architecture.
Artishchev told me that the Android-based software for his HUD system is complete; it will run GPS with maps from Navteq and voice recognition from a company called Nuance. If he ends up realizing his complete vision for the LiveMap helmet it will also incorporate Bluetooth connectivity and a 4K Sony action camera with a “live stream” feature. Navigation will run off a satellite signal, while the camera and “points of interest” would be downloaded via LTE.
Sounds like a tall order, and explains the price point: $2,000.
That’s where I have the hardest time with the idea. I can armor myself head-to-toe with quality equipment for that kind of money, or buy two more Craigslist motorcycles.
Artishchev’s justification for the price is that once you buy a carbon helmet, GPS, mounting kit, and camera, you’re close already. I disagree, but the integration of these systems does have its own value I suppose.
Artishchev expects to sell “30,000 to 40,000” helmets per year if he gets assembly underway. I don’t really see that happening either, and in fact he and I have been debating this over email for some time. But what does my cheap-ass know, would you pay $2,000 for a helmet like this?
LiveMap is scheduling their “first batch” of 1,000 to-consumer helmets for the second quarter of 2017 in the U.S., followed by Canada, England and Australia soon after. In 2018 they hope to expand to markets in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Greece.
When I first met Artishchev in April, he told me he had financed the R&D and construction of his first two prototypes with profit from his previous invention, something called the PostureMaster which he assured me is very popular in Russia.
At that time Artishchev was looking for $10 million in investment money to get the product to market, but says he has since raised $3 million and established commitments from “shops and big major moto brands.”
Which brands specifically he wouldn’t say, citing “NDAs” again. He also claims he’s been backed by several funding streams from the Russian government, including a grant from the country’s Ministry of Science and Education.
That still leaves $7 million for LiveMap to raise, but Artishchev has vehemently insisted that he will bring the product to market one way or another.
From where I’m standing, there are still a lot of questions left to answer before this can be called a viable product; like what kind of distribution system is in place? Customer service? Marketing? And perhaps most importantly; who’s going to convince the extremely safety-focused riders, the only people who would even think about spending two grand on a helmet, that they should trust their brains to a new brand?
One way or another, LiveMap will be on our radar. At least until CES 2017. I wouldn’t recommend breaking out the credit card for a preorder yet, but it would be awesome to see a company bring HUD and augmented reality to the consumer market for motorcycles. Who knows, maybe Artishchev will beat them to it.