First, full disclaimer. This is certainly a familiar conversation with articles found on online covering the subject dating back to 2014, all detailing imminent product releases. But, like a struggling sports franchise, many bikers consider each New Year the year they're successful. Rather than winning a championship, bikers simply have the hope of strapping on the cutting-edge technology of Heads Up Display, showing an array of information before a rider’s very eyes.
The most recent example of this was the high profile implosion of Skully AR1 helmets in March 2016. Standing for ‘Augmented Reality’, the AR1 was the first helmet to feature a built-in 180° Blindspot Camera and Heads-Up Display for unparalleled situational awareness and safety. It promised to sync to a phone via Bluetooth enabling hands-free calling, GPS navigation and music streaming, all while riders keep their eyes on the road.
Around a thousand helmets were manufactured before corporate chaos caused the company to fold, leaving high-tech lids a dream once again for bikers.
Sexy pic, but no high-tech helmets - Source Skully
From developing the technology in the first place to riding through initial light sales as some consumers avoid being unpaid testers, someone involved in producing motorcycle-based HUD displays needs to have deep pockets. This is the downside of high-tech meeting high financing and was seen in fabulous fashion with the Skully corporate meltdown.
However, after a couple of industry missteps it appears riders will have several choices of HUD technology to choose from later this year. First, a look at what the technology is.
Taking a page from the book of modern aircraft, Heads Up Display technology projects information on a surface directly in front of the pilot. The system made its way into automobiles some time ago with the information displayed on the windshield in front of the driver. A few solutions are being suggested to bring the idea to motorcycles and 2017 looks like the year riders can decide which is best through the power of their wallets.
A quick review of the technological dance card gives us the following possible choices of HUD systems that will take riders into the next century. Well, at least initially.
The ‘proof of concept’ shown by BMW early last year was a full-faced helmet fitted with an innovative head-up display function, enabling the projection of data directly into the rider's field of view.
BMW Motorrad envisions its display options to include data relating to the technical status of the motorcycle, such as tire pressure, oil level and fuel level, travel speed and selected gear, speed limit as well as road sign recognition and warnings of impending dangers. However, as the BMW Motorrad press release read along the lines of ‘We’ve had this idea and wouldn’t it be great’, speculation of what could be done with the system was pretty aggressive.
‘A helmet with head-up display offers interesting possibilities to make riding even more intensive and at the same time safer. For instance, an action camera pointing forwards, located inside the helmet, can record video footage of the journey directly from the helmet,’ Clutch and Chrome reported at the time. ‘A second camera oriented towards the rear could at some point in the future perform the function of a 'digital rear-view mirror'. And last but not least, this technology also enables the visualization of other riders in a motorcycle group. This enables the rider to see where his companions are at any given moment.’
BMW Motorrad's version of HUD technology - Source BMW Motorrad
When can I have it?
While BMW Motorrad haven’t given a timeline on when they expect to market a motorcycle helmet with a HUD system, several factors lean towards it being sooner than later.
First, BMW as a whole base much of their manufacturing reputation on developing systems to promote driver and rider safety. This is seen in its ecall systems which alerts emergency services after a crash as well as laser lights for better illumination. It stands to reason they would really kick themselves in the proverbial saddle by not being at the front of the pack for HUD technology.
Also, the technology used in the helmet seen in the ‘proof of concept’ isn’t completely theirs. BMW Motorrad are working with DigiLens who first showed the technology at CES in January 2016.
“Until now, the perception of the industry was that current HUD approaches did not meet the needs of motorcycle riders. The introduction of the DigiLens HUD represents a sea change,” said Chris Chinnock, at CES 2016. Chinnock would know, he’s the owner of Insight Media, a premier market research firm for display technologies.
“With the expanded field of view, long range focus point and intelligent rider cues, the DigiLens HUD may prove to be the new standard adopted by motorcycle manufacturers everywhere,” Chinnock wrote at the time.
Look familiar? The helmets seen at the DigiLens display during CES 2016 - Source DigiLens
In January 2017, DigiLens announced they had raised an incredible $22 million in additional financing and are essentially ready roll out a revolutionary system consisting of cutting-edge lenses that are much thinner and more transparent than any smart glass on the market today. This news gets even more exciting when one reads the company considers itself a manufacturer for the manufacturers and not knowing if BMW Motorrad have an exclusive distribution agreement, leaves the teasing thought this same technology could offered through other motorcycle brands.
Top all this off with the promise that after rigorous environmental and safety testing, DigiLens had intended to offer the motorcycle helmet display to OEM partners within 2016.
There are two parts of delivering information onto a HUD, the actual device itself and software to collect data and project it. As far as the unit itself, DigiLens described theirs as a lightweight waveguide optic which contains a tiny image generator. This magnetically clips into the helmet and sits in front of the rider’s eye, avoiding any line of sight disruption and accommodating eyeglasses.
According to the press release out of CES 2016 ‘The holographically “printed” waveguide optic is so lightweight, simple and easy to manufacture it is almost disposable’. Most read disposable and think inexpensive.
The only other added costs to BMW Motorrad’s version would be the helmet itself and as mentioned, the software. Taking all these components into account as well as the novelty factor, bikers could be looking at more than $800.
What BMW Motorrad imagines being beamed in front of rider's eyes with their system - Source BMW Motorrad
This was the story that prompted Clutch and Chrome to pull together the (hopefully) upcoming HUD options riders should enjoy later this year.
This US-based technology start-up NUVIZ Inc recently announced Pierer Industrie AG have invested in the company. That corporate name may not immediately jump to the mind of the average motorcyclist, the partnership makes more sense when one realizes it’s the parent company of KTM, Husqvarna, WP Suspension and Pankl Racing Systems. According to reports, NUVIZ has raised around $9 million with KTM contributing a majority of that amount.
“This strategic investment is very exciting for NUVIZ as it is a testament to our technology leadership in the HUD and connected riding space, and further emphasizes the demand and need for the user experiences we have set out to create," said Malte Laass, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, NUVIZ.
What could be considered as more important than the cash itself, is who gave it. NUVIZ seems especially pleased the investment came from a motorcycle manufacturer, noting ‘we are very happy to have found a partner with deep industry knowledge, and the expertise and patience needed to build a sustainable technology business.’
Not surprisingly, the KTM group want to integrate the HUD technology into KTM and Husqvarna motorcycles.
Unlike the solution from BMW Motorrad/DigiLens, the product from NUVIZ attaches on the outside of the helmet and the company imagines the device will offer ‘a seamless and intuitive experience for riders to navigate, communicate, and capture videos or photos - all while keeping their focus on the road’.
Because it will most likely be sold as a standalone device designed to be attached to any full face helmet, the cost of entry should be considerably lower. Using pictures of the different devices the BMW/DigiLens product looks lighter, offers a larger display screen and certainly has a sleek look to it. The DigiLens also appears to sit in front of the eye instead of requiring the rider to look down as is needed with the NUVIZ product.
When can I have it?
The only timeline given in the latest press release from NUVIZ promises the device will be available in the first half of 2017. Just as we noted BMW Motorrad wouldn’t want to be left behind on a technology they’ve publicly discussed, the KTM group also has its own motorcycle skin in the HUD game. As they’re the bulk of the recent investment money, it seems fair to think they would want to keep the product riding along to market.
As with BMW Motorrad/DigiLens, no official price has been given, but using a time honored tradition of gauging HUD systems against other cutting-edge technologies introduced in the past as well as throwing darts at a board full of random numbers, a standalone system could be around the $500 mark. If this sounds like a lot, grab a rider who bought one of the earlier Bluetooth communication systems and ask how much it cost them to be two-wheeled technology pioneers.
The view from a Nuviz HUD - Souce Nuviz
Riders yearning for a grassroots effort in the high tech world of HUD systems should look no further than LiveMap and its creator Andrew Artishchev.
Projecting GPS and other information onto the visor and into the user’s sightline is the system LiveMap designed to help riders keep their eyes on the road while reading everything. The idea must be good, LiveMap won the Intel Make It Wearable semifinalist award in 2014.
Other differences with the LiveMap system, it only activates if needed such as when the GPS is giving directions or for traffic alerts, thereby extending the battery life. Rather than coming from the side temple of the rider, the projection unit lives in the chin area of the helmet, projecting upwards onto the visor.
This last approach of displaying information leads to another part of the system, a special visor. Layers of a super-thin semi-reflective material on highly polished spaces are placed at steep angles on the visor where the data is projected. This allows the rider to see the road ahead through the information being displayed while putting it directly in their line of sight.
The LiveMap system seems to be built-in, requiring interested riders to buy the whole helmet. As it stands currently, users won’t need to tell anyone they’re wearing a LiveMap helmet, the protruding chin area which houses the projection system is fairly prominent.
When can I have it?
The company gave summer 2017 as a targeted delivery date but it also said it would be showing at CES 2017 which was held in Las Vegas in January. Although Clutch and Chrome didn’t attend the famous electronics show, we couldn’t find LiveMap among the list of exhibitors given on the CES website. The company also promised to appear at an electronics show in Barcelona, Spain in the first quarter of 2017, so interested riders should see if the company attends that event.
The helmet has been developed through grants from various Russian science and development agencies and seems to be adding funding through pre-orders. The website allows buyers to pre-order for $1,500 with the price increasing to $2,000 when the helmets are in full production. According to said website, as of the time of writing 16 pre-orders have been placed.
The creator and his helmet - Source LiveMap
Hopes, Hype and Reality
The world or motorcycle enthusiasts is a wonderfully diverse place with some riders having no interest in any kind of HUD system. This could be down to an apparent requirement of wearing a full-face helmet, which some don’t enjoy, or the more traditional riders wanting only a reliable motorcycle and an open road for their time in the saddle.
But for those who do find the thought riding into the next scientific century intriguing, there are some interesting choices coming their way. As with any new technology, how the information is delivered to the rider varies with different systems discussed. Aside from how the information is delivered, where the data comes from, the ease of setup and use are all details that won’t be known until we get closer to an actual launch of a product.
Developers must realize, these are all areas that can make or potentially break a system.
As mentioned earlier, articles can be found online from many years ago promising different HUD systems. The systems included in this review appear to have the best chance of riding out to the marketplace. A few other options were found while researching this Clutch and Chrome article, but weren’t mentioned as there didn’t appear to be any expectation of availability or the product's website was dormant.
One such example of this would be an interesting item from a New Zealand start-up company, REYEDR, based in Auckland. Pronounced ‘rider’ the product attaches to a helmet and delivers turn-by turn information from a smartphone navigation system. The company and product were finalists in the University of Auckland Spark Entrepreneurship Challenge 2015, and Alumni of the Lightning Lab Digital Accelerator 2016. They took it to the CES 2017 show with an eye to gather distributors, collaborators and investors for their venture.
Aside from a press release with the information highlighted in this Clutch and Chrome article, we have no idea on how much it will cost or even to expect it to be made available.
If you are a developer of a HUD system that will be brought to market and we haven’t included you, send us an email and we would be more than happy to add it to this article.