Motorcycle Monitor

By: 
March 01, 2011

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.

Motorcycle Monitor

The good
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
bone-breaking surfaces.

"We can't
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."

Indeed, a
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.

Bering's
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.

"We think
the best way to identify an accident is to let the vehicle make the decision,"
Nicolas says.

Motorcycle Monitor

Building on
Experience

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.

In
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
Semiconductor
, 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
accelerometers
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
Freescale microcontroller
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
microcontroller
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

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