By: Sean Lahman, Democrat and Chronicle, Nov 13, 2013
- HelStar helps make motorcyclists visible to others to prevent crashes.
- Average of 4,250 motorcyclists are killed in accidents in the U.S. each year.
- David Werner and David Zima patent a system that includes 23 separate technologies.
It has been a year since I wrote about David Werner, a Pittsford resident with a novel idea. After a near collision with a motorcyclist who had a low-mounted hard-to-see taillight, he imagined a solution — attaching the light to the cyclist's helmet.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that an average of 4,250 motorcyclists are killed in accidents in the U.S. each year, and studies have found that most motorcycle-car crashes occur when the driver of the car fails to see the motorcycle. Clearly, there's a need for a solution that can help make motorcyclists more visible.
The idea seemed simple enough, but getting a working design took years, and the technological challenge of implementing his idea proved quite complex. Werner teamed with engineer David Zima, an expert in wireless communications systems similar to Bluetooth technology. Their efforts yielded a patent that includes 23 separate technologies.
When I met Werner in 2012, he had a prototype but knew more work was needed before his product would be ready for the marketplace. He quit his day job and focused on the project full time.
He spent the last year testing and improving the product, courting investors and working with manufacturers and distributors to improve the device. He also enlisted a research company to help develop realistic sales projections for his device, dubbed HelStar.
Werner launched a pilot program, recruiting motorcyclists to use the device and share feedback. "They loved the concept," he said, "but they had plenty of ideas for improvement."
One of the first things the participants told him was to get rid of the on-off switch. The system was useless if the rider forgot to turn it on before heading out on the road, and the battery would drain if the device was running while helmet and bike sat in the garage. Werner designed a system that works without any intervention.
Riders also wondered how the system would pair up if they owned multiple motorcycles, or if multiple riders shared a single bike. They also wanted to be able to turn the system off if a passenger was sitting behind a rider whose helmet had the device — so they wouldn't be blinded by the bright red lights. Werner made more updates and is getting ready to bring the product to market.
Werner has also talked to the largest helmet manufacturers, who helped convince him to pursue two different implementations of the device: one that's built into a motorcycle helmet and one that attaches as a separate device.
“But Werner is a great example of an inventor who knew he’d need help to be successful. ”
"We have investors lined up to fund production and have contracted with a U.S. manufacturer. But we need help to move from pilot to production." The HelStar system will retail for $149.
I talk to folks with fascinating innovations all of the time. Sometimes their enthusiasm is out of whack with reality. Sometimes they have no idea how to turn their idea into a product, and often, they don't have a clue about how to get that product to market.
But Werner is a great example of an inventor who knew he'd need help to be successful.
When we first met, his mantra was "you don't know what you don't know," and I think acknowledging that is the first and most important step for an individual inventor.
Lahman's patents column appears on Sundays. Follow him on Twitter @SeanLahman, or reach him at (585) 258-2369.