By Kate O'Connell, WXXI
Introducing HelSTAR, the helmet for visibility
An upstate company has developed a system for motorcycle helmets that could also have applications for both defense and sport.
A system of sensors alerts riders when the helmet has sustained damage that might not be visible, but could compromise safety. The sensor system is part of a prototype helmet designed to make motorcyclists more visible, and safer.
More than 4,500 people are killed in motorcycle accidents in the U.S each year according to the Centers for Disease Control, and studies show most of those accidents occur because riders are less visible than cars.
Pittsford inventor David Werner nearly contributed to those statistics on a hot night several years ago when he failed to see a motorcycle that was between his car and the one in front, until the last second.
“The motorcycle brake light was low and small, I didn’t see it, and the rider happened to be wearing a jacket and a helmet that was the same color as the van. So he was almost invisible to me, and I said ‘why doesn’t he have a brake light on the back of his motorcycle helmet?’”
That was the catalyst for Werner to develop his helmet prototype, but it wasn’t as easy as he anticipated.
Werner and engineer David Zima have developed a system which involves 23 technologies, all of which are under the one patent.
Integrated brake and turn signals
They have developed a new design that increases visibility by integrating brake and turn signals onto the back of a helmet using LED lights.
“One of the visions of the company," Werner says, "is to improve visibility and save lives, so our helmet gives you something that is extremely visible on the brightest day or at night, to alert drivers when you’re stopping when you’re slowing, when you’re turning.”
But he says the helmet’s internal sensor system has also really interested manufacturers.
Werner says their system uses very little energy so it has a long life span, and it also makes diagnosing injuries like concussion much faster.
“Using the same kind of accelerometer technology and some other technology that we’ve developed, we can determine concussive injury. So direction of impact, duration of impact, and we can report it wirelessly to the sidelines, to a medic, it could be used in the military.”
Possible application in sports
Werner says the technology could have a huge range of applications in the future, including in sport where it’s estimated that 62,000 concussions occur annually in high school contact sports alone.
He also says motorcycle helmet manufacturers were enthusiastic about the sensor system as it could potentially lower their insurance liability.
Helmet manufacturers generally tell riders to send their helmet in for testing if it has been dropped from three feet or higher, but not many people do that, and internal damage that makes the device less safe is often invisible.
“Helmet manufacturers have a way of determining if a helmet has been damaged and whether it is still safe or not, but nobody sends it in. With our unit there would be a dimly lit LED on the back of the helmet that would allow a rider to know that the helmet has sustained potential damage to cause it to be unsafe," Werner says. "And it alerts a manufacturer that it has let a rider know this potential damage has occurred. From a liability stand point, that’s very important to motorcycle helmet manufacturers.”
Werner says his company, Third Eye Design, will release the brake light and turn signal prototype first, but they are working on patenting some other technologies too.
He says the company's first priority is to increase visibility and safety among motorcyclists.