For motorcyclists, few thoughts provoke more terror than the
idea of flying headlong over the handlebars. Under those circumstances, they're
at the mercy of velocity and impact, as well as the free-body forces that are
generated when flesh and bones strike asphalt surfaces, concrete curbs and
occasional moving vehicles.
news, however, is that one clothing manufacturer understands the physics of the
situation, and has a solution. The Bering Co.
, a French
firm that specializes in wearable motorcycle gear, has rolled out a jacket that
doubles as an airbag. Send it a firing signal and the jacket will puff up with
21 l of compressed helium, cushioning the cyclist's body before it strikes the
stop the accidents, but we can provide the drivers with something protective to
wear," says Francois Nicolas, a spokesman for Bering. "And the best way to do
that is to give them an airbag jacket."
jacket does seem to be the most logical solution. Unlike car and truck drivers,
who are tethered to their seats, motorcyclists are essentially projectiles,
free from the confinement and safety of an enclosed vehicle interior. That's
why a study conducted by the European Assn. of Motorcycle Manufacturers
concluded that the risk of being killed in a motorcycle accident is 20 times
higher than the risk in a passenger car.
new jacket isn't the first to try to deal with those dangers, but it is the
first to apply wireless technology to the problem. It's also the first to allow
the bike itself to decide whether it's time to fire the bag.
the best way to identify an accident is to let the vehicle make the decision,"
To be sure, others have also developed airbag jackets, but have
made them work by fastening a cable between the jacket and the bike. As a
result, those jackets actually use the airborne motorcyclist as a means to help
determine whether a crash is imminent.
contrast, Bering's airbag jacket calls for a team effort involving both the
bike and the jacket. To make its decision on whether to activate the airbag,
the product uses two key parameters: impact and loss of control. Working with
engineers from U.S.-based Freescale
, a major automotive supplier, Bering developed specialized
modules to help detect a crash or a slide. A six-channel crash module, attached
to the fork of the bike, uses a pair
of two-axis accelerometers
and a pair of single-axis
to look for deceleration in three axes (the devices are used
in pairs for redundancy). When the accelerometers sense impact, they send
analog signals that are processed by an 8-bit
on board the module. The module then sends the
digitized data across a CAN databus to a separate interface module on the
bike's steering bar. There, a 16-bit
processes the data yet again, using the firing algorithm to
determine whether the airbag needs to be activated. If it decides to fire, then
the interface module uses an RF link to "talk" to the jacket.
which has worked on airbags since the inception of the technology two decades
ago, says that the crash sensor is the same one used by the auto industry. "They
had nearly the same needs as the automakers," says Matthieu Reze, automotive
technical marketer for Freescale. "And since we had done it for automakers for
so long, we knew exactly what they needed."
Click here for larger image.
engineers found that motorcycle airbags had their own set of challenges. While
the crash sensor looks for impact, a separate module under the seat watches for
loss of control. Using an accelerometer and 8-bit microcontroller, this module
analyzes whether the motorcycle is tilting too much. Here, Bering has departed
from traditional automotive techniques, which are more likely to look for yaw
than for tilt. To do that, however, the jacket maker had to study how
loss-of-control accidents occur.
up with a lot of different tests for professional bikers to do on test tracks,"
Reze says. "They had to determine what (tilt) angles were acceptable for the
driver, and at what point the biker starts to lose control."
cycle exceeds that prescribed angle, the loss-of-control module takes note. Like
the crash module, it sends its data via a CANbus to the interface module on the
steering bar. The interface module "looks" at data from both modules, then
decides whether to fire the bag.
If it does
decide to fire, the interface module uses a wireless transmitter. It sends a
signal to an 8-bit microcontroller in the jacket, which initiates airbag
inflation is accomplished by using a switch to open a small valve on a metallic
helium bottle inside the jacket. When the valve opens, the jacket's lining
fills with 21 l of cold helium gas. Bering says it used helium for good reason:
A pyrotechnic explosion, typically used in car airbags, would burn the wearer
of the jacket. Moreover, the helium solution offers another advantage: The
airbag is filled - not just for a half-second or so, as is the case with a car
airbag - but for a full six seconds, thus protecting drivers if they are thrown
from the bike.
From the onset of the accident to
the airbag inflation, the entire process takes just 80 msec, Bering says.
Freescale engineers believe the
technology plows new ground. "This is not the first to have an accelerometer on
the motorcycle's fork," Reze says. "But it's the first to have loss-of-control
detection and it's the first to use a wireless solution."Testing the Market
In November, Bering rolled out the Wireless Airbag Safety
System to motorcyclists in France, and has since sold about 500 of them at a
price of about 590 Euros apiece. Because the product is an aftermarket device,
Bering has partnered with an electronics supplier, Tecno Globe
, to do installation of the
modules on motorcycles, and to program the bikes to work with the jackets.
buy the jacket, you buy all the modules," Reze says. "Installation is done by
professionals. You can't do it yourself."
believes that the jacket has arrived just in time to help Europe
deal with a proliferation of small scooters and motorbikes on its streets. "In France,
scooters and little bikes are everywhere," Nicolas says. "People drive these
motorcycles without any information or even a license. We think the best thing
we can do is give them some protection."
the technology is available only in France. The airbags in the jackets
can be used multiple times before replacement is necessary, Nicolas says. Two
jackets can be purchased per bike to allow for passengers.
says that Bering has talked with motorcycle manufacturers about installing and selling
the technology on newly manufactured bikes. "We've discussed the possibility
with them," Nicolas says. "Kawasaki was the first to take notice, but we still
don't know how it would work."
meantime, Bering and many motorcycle manufacturers will undoubtedly be watching
to see how the public receives the new technology. "We'll do it in France and see
how it works here," Nicolas says. "If it goes well, then we hope to do it for