About pradsliff

Many things: husband, parent, entrepreneur, technologist, marketer, guitarist, singer, scuba diver, photographer, illustrator, writer, blogger, and whatever else fills my sails.

Skully AR-1 Heads-Up Display Helmet Now Available for Pre-order


— Update as of 9/16/2014: Skully’s Indiegogo campaign is up to $1,978,286 —

On 8/11/2014 at 6:00 A.M. Pacific time (today), the Skully Helmets AR-1 Augmented Reality Motorcycle Helmet began accepting pre-orders through the Indiegogo crowd funding platform (see my preview post). As of the publishing of this post, Skully has raised $683,523 of their $250,000 goal. Not bad for only being a few hours into the campaign. This goes to show how much pent up demand there is by motorcyclists for advanced helmet systems that are designed to enhance their rides and make them safer.

Skully Indiegogo

With the launch of pre-orders, the question is finally answered of how much the AR-1 is going to cost. Although the Indiegogo campaign presents a number of different “perks” that allow the earliest of adopters to pre-order the helmet at a discount, the perk called “Rebel Early Adopter” is priced at $1,399 and is labeled “save $100.” So that infers that the retail price of the helmet will be $1,499.

Skully AR-1 PricingFor those of you not familiar with crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, people with ideas for products and services seek funding for their projects from people who typically trade use of their money for some months ahead of time for a discount on the product. The beauty of this is that companies with unique ideas who may have had trouble finding finding, or who are loathe to give away large percentages of their companies to investors, can seek funding directly from the people who are most passionate about seeing their product or service come to market. I think of it like California’s initiative system, where if enough of the voters are passionate about a subject, they can pass it into law without the need for the California legislature. It is the highest form of merit-based innovation. I have backed a number of projects and have received great new products as a result. I also very much like supporting the entrepreneurial spirit with my dollars whether or not I pony up for the full product price.

AR-1-Delivery-Date

Another question was answered today, when the AR-1 will be available. The estimated delivery date is May 2015. Which brings me to the thought of why it is a good idea to “lend” Skully $1,399 by participating in the crowd funding program and have to wait until May 2015 to receive their AR-1. By doing that, funders are giving the middle finger to all of the helmet manufacturers who have not innovated themselves over the past years, choosing rather to invest in new styles, colors and incremental improvements. They are also telling the investors who did not pour money into Skully that we want this product so much we are willing to fund its development.

I had a comment on another Skully post that wondered if something newer or better would come along before the AR-1s became available and whether this was a risk he should consider before funding the Skully campaign. My belief is that as for something newer and better coming along before May 2015, don’t count on it. Helmet manufacturers have had the opportunity to do something interesting for years and have not made the investment to do so. Also, I would surmise that the helmet manufacturers suffer from “hardware-think” and they don’t have the vision, let alone the talent, to pursue development of a software platform that is delivered via a heads-up display. What Skully did was look at this product as a software platform in a helmet, much as Tesla looks as their cars as computers that happen to have wheels. Skully partnered with an ODM (original design manufacturer) of helmets who is already making over 1 million helmets a year. So they can lean on the expertise of the manufacturer for all of the base-function hardware and tend to the software platform themselves, which is where the real innovation with the AR-1 is happening anyway.
Lastly, don’t forget that by funding Skully’s campaign it prevents them from needing to give away large percentages of their company to outside investors. And, by paying them near the retail price, a huge chunk doesn’t have to go to resellers, both online and in stores. This allows all of the money to pay salaries of the Skully developers and other team members who are directly responsible for bringing this revolutionary product to market. As Skully calls it, this is Rebel Innovation. And that, my friends, is a noble cause. : )
Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

 

 

 

Tease: Skully Beta Testers Meet in San Francisco


Sorry to be such a tease, but I wouldn’t be doing my job reporting what’s happening with the Skully AR-1 Augmented Reality Motorcycle Helmet if I didn’t share this. Full disclosure, there are no new details in the post that I haven’t mentioned already. So send your questions about price, release date and how you can become a beta tester directly to Skully.   : )

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

On July 22, 2014 there was an event at a hip location in San Francisco for local riders who had been chosen as beta testers. For the first time, we beta testers were able to meet one another, ask questions of the Skully team members, and spend more time with the AR-1 in a group environment. For some of the beta testers, I believe this may have been their first time to fondle, I mean drool-over, that is to say, “try on” (yeah, that’s it, “try on”) the AR-1.

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

So there we were: the few, the proud, the frickin’ Beta Testers! We were sipping on good wine and beer, snacking on excellent hors d’ oeuvres, and frothing at the mouth to learn more about Skully’s plans for the AR-1. One thing we did find out was that there have been over 100,000 beta tester applications. Wow! As a marketing professional I can say that few companies have engendered so much anticipatory excitement for a new product and it portends good things for Skully and the launch of the AR-1. It also humbled us as the chosen few and instilled in us a responsibility to do a good job for Skully in terms of feedback back to the development team and promotion to the riding public at large.

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

Skully’s CEO, Marcus Weller, kicked off the meeting in his usual passionate and humble style. He talked about Skully’s mission to bring added safety to humanity and his feelings of how the beta testers could bring real value to the project. Without too long of a wait, Marcus invited us to feel what it was like to wear the AR-1 while sitting on one of the bikes they brought in for the event (one of which was Marcus’ own Ducati 999).

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter RadsliffSkully’s Director of Business Management, Mitchell Weller (and Marcus’ brother) helped beta testers evaluate how easy it was to transition between looking at the helmet display, back to the road, and back to the display again. Because the AR-1 uses an infinite focus display reticle, having your eyes make the leap from inside the helmet to outside and back is not troublesome at all. In fact, it started to feel quite natural once you spent a little time with the helmet.

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

 [ note: click on thumbnails below to launch gallery viewer ]

I watched intently as all of the other beta testers tried on and experienced the AR-1. As with my first AR-1 try-on, they expressed surprise and delight at the extremely wide view of the rear-facing camera and how easy it was to see the display, with the visor up or down. I was glad to see a few glasses-wearers trying on the helmet and spoke with two of them after they were done. Each that I spoke with felt that wearing glasses with the display would not be a problem for them and the infinite-focus display worked well.

Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff Skully Beta Meeting - © 2014 Peter Radsliff

I heard consistent comments from testers who said they really liked the electro-chromic visor. One very excited rider I spoke with felt that this unique push button on = dark, push button off = clear feature should be considered a primary feature in and of itself.

It was very interesting speaking to the beta testers about their views on the helmet. As you can imagine, everyone was very excited to be there and couldn’t wait to take one home. But alas, that was not the intent of this night’s meeting. It was a meet-and-greet between the beta testers and the Skully team members and it was a great success. Here are more photos of of beta testers and me trying on the AR-1 for your tease-ment. I will let you know more when I know more.

 

 

Preview: Skully AR-1 Augmented Reality Motorcycle Helmet


I was invited by Marcus Weller, CEO of Skully Helmets to visit their headquarters for a private session to check out the Skully AR-1 Augmented Reality Motorcycle Helmet. What I didn’t know was that by the end of the session, Marcus would invite me to be one of the official AR-1 Beta Testers. Of course I was thrilled. Getting the chance to be on the front end of developing a new technology that has far-reaching consequences is an exciting thing—one that I have been a party to many times in my career as a Silicon Valley product development professional. So it is with this context that I approach the AR-1. Not only as a motorcycle enthusiast who rides every day, but as a veteran developer of hardware and software systems that has ranged from wireless scuba diving computers, to THX-certified loudspeakers, innovative digital storage devices, and home automation systems to name a few. What follows are my first impressions of the helmet and my perceptions on the impact it will have on riders. Here is my best attempt at chronicling what it was like to try on the AR-1 for the first time and experience the impact of what Skully has invented.

What's in that black box?

After chatting in the Skully offices that are located in San Francisco’s SOMA district, we headed downstairs to where Marcus’ Ducati was parked next to a table draped with black cloth that held a large protective case. By this time my mind was racing with anticipation of what wearing the AR-1 would be like. Six months ago, I heard Marcus speak at the Piston & Chain motorcycle club and saw a prototype of the helmet [see post]. But no one was allowed to try the prototype on at that early stage, so my preconceptions of what the experience would be like were all over the place.

CEO Marcus Weller and the Skully Helmets AR-1 Augmented Reality Motorcycle Helmet

When Marcus first took the AR-1 out of the case, I was at first struck with how “normal” it looked. It was attractive, for sure, but it was not at all odd which I attributed to the understated all-satin black color scheme. I liked this, because one thing I would not want is to have a helmet that looked like it was festooned with expensive electronics. The moment of truth then came when Marcus asked me what size helmet I wore. Like many riders, I opted for my current 2XL helmet size because it was more comfortable and the next size down was too tight. However, after seeing videos online on the importance of having a properly sized helmet, I have always wondered whether I was sacrificing safety for comfort by choosing that size. And I was also worried that I would not fit the AR-1 that was handed to me because it looked pretty compact.

First try on

As I put on the AR-1, it slipped over my big noggin with ease and I was happy that it’s shape did not result in undue pressure on my forehead like some leading helmet brands have done. The padding seemed luxurious and the fit was excellent. I usually use a modular flip-up style, so adopting a non-modular full-face would be a big change for me. It had a quick-release strap system, but frankly, I was so interested in the optics, I hardly even noticed.

Looking over and through

The display was already activated when I put the helmet on and it seemed to be in a mode that transitioned between the rear-facing camera and a navigation screen. Because this was just a first experience session, it didn’t really matter to me what was on the display. I was just fascinated with—and amazed by—the brightness, deep saturated colors and sharpness of the text on this little reticle that sat at my 4:00 o’clock in front of the right eye. As I got over the initial shock of feeling like Tony Stark inside his Iron Man suit, I settled down and started to evaluate what Skully calls their “advanced situational awareness system.”

Tony Stark looking through the Iron Man heads up display

photo: © 2008 Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures

Skully’s goal for the AR-1 as stated on their website is to “show navigation and blind spot data, allowing you to stay focused on the most important part of your ride – the road.” It’s easy to get embroiled in the technology and whether a rider CAN effectively use a heads up display (more correctly stated as a Helmet Mounted Display or HMD). The more important question is really whether a rider SHOULD use an HMD and WHAT it is actually displaying. Unlike the myriad of information presented to Iron Man, Skully is focusing the AR-1 rider experience primarily on a near-180° view behind the motorcycle and turn-by-turn directions. Both of these features are aimed at preventing the rider from taking their attention away from the road ahead to check mirrors, look over their shoulder, or down at their GPS.

Looking over and through the AR-1 HUD optics

I have heard and read some concerns from people who worry that the display would distract and thereby endanger the rider. I had precisely the opposite feeling when I donned the AR-1 for the first time. The HMD reticle is positioned far enough to the side and low enough to allow sighting over it just as if you were riding with a standard helmet. Looking at the display is akin to looking down at the motorcycle’s instruments with one huge exception: you don’t need to tip your head downwards. I perceive this “heads-up” posture as the first aspect of Skully’s augmented reality: i.e. you no longer need to take your eyes away from the road. The experience is further enhanced when you realize that you can see through the bright little display. When I put my hand behind the image, I could see my fingers and my brain registered that there was no interruption in my vision. It was then that I realized the display felt immersive and the opposite of a distraction.

Bitchin' electro-chromic visor

One very important attribute of the AR-1 is that you can see the HMD reticle equally as well with the visor down or up. This is something I will have to verify under different riding conditions, but I found little difference in the readability of the display either way. For me this was a game changer since I like to ride with my visor open most of the time and with sunglasses or clear safety glasses underneath. But I may change my mind about how I ride because the AR-1 comes with an elecrochromic visor. I’m trying hard to be cool and professional writing about my experienced with the AR-1 but I just have to say, IT HAS A FREAKIN’ ELECTROCHROMIC VISOR!!! One push of a button: dark visor. Another push: clear visor. Although this has nothing to do with the true underlying value of an augmented reality display helmet, it is an extremely cool feature that is very handy.

Similar to Skully's Rear View

photo: Google street view

When I ride, I ride paranoid. I don’t only think that drivers can’t see me. I think that they can see me and are just waiting to take their shot at killing me. It’s a sad, paranoid world inside my helmet, but it has helped me avoid any altercations with cagers in well over 50,000 miles of riding. The downside of riding like this is that I am constantly checking my mirrors to see who is around me or coming up on me too fast. And like the crash Marcus experienced that was the original impetus for founding Skully, I always worry that in the interest of preventing someone behind from hitting me, I will inadvertently crash into the person in front of me when they slam on the brakes the same moment I decide to look over my shoulder. This leads me to what I perceive is the second aspect of Skully’s augmented reality: the rider has complete situational awareness at all times. This may seem to be the same as not needing to take your eyes off the road, but it’s not. It’s the mental picture a rider has at any particular moment of what is happening around their bike and how it affects their safety. The photo above is not the view from the AR-1’s rearview camera, but it is close. I stitched it together from two Google street view photos based upon what I saw behind me while standing in front of Skully’s building. I was able to see both of those buildings in the AR-1’s rearview image and I was only standing about 60 feet away across the street. The width of the view is amazing. And the way I can describe the spherical distortion from the wide angle lens is that it is…just right. I’ll know better from more testing of the AR-1, but from what I perceived standing on the sidewalk, the AR-1 would allow me to know who was behind me and who was in both blind spots, and who was coming up on me too fast.

Approximate angle of Skully AR-1 rearview camera

Approximate angle of AR-1 rearview camera – photo: Google Maps

Another important thing to understand about the situational awareness that the Skully AR-1 may be able to impart is that it could be like the difference between video and still images in your brain. When you take a fleeting glance at your mirrors or over your shoulder, it’s as though your brain took a snapshot of the situation the moment you glanced there. But with the AR-1’s ability to allow you to keep looking forward, your brain and peripheral vision may be able to see continuous motion from the cars behind and to the sides of you in the HMD reticle. This is more like having a video playing in your brain of what’s going on around you while you are still watching the road ahead. I would surmise that this effect is enhanced even more so at night where the motion of headlights tells the story around you.

Of course without extensive road testing, this is all just conjecture. But I am starting to believe that the value of wearing a Skully AR-1 will not be its ability to provide directions, or play music, or make phone calls, or even see behind you. And I don’t believe it will be a feeling of being even more connected (which is what we want to get away from by riding in the first place). I believe that riding with a Skully AR-1 will be a completely new and immersive experience. One where you can actually enjoy yourself more, because…
• You already know all of the threats in your immediate environment
• You don’t need to fumble with the iPhone or GPS on your dash
• You can focus on enjoying the road ahead
• And you can use enhanced features to stay as connected or disconnected as you wish

So I see why Skully calls this an “augmented reality motorcycle helmet.” It hold the promise to provide access to information and control of electronics in a way that helps you focus on the ride and enhance safety while keeping it real. And isn’t that what riding a motorcycle is all about?  

23-Marcus-Weller-and-Peter-Radsliff-2

Postscript:
I want to thank Marcus Weller for inviting me to beta test the AR-1. History may show that his innovation and the hard work of the Skully team could be the greatest enhancement to rider safety since the invention of the helmet. But the promise of Skully is so much more than just safety. The enhanced riding experience that will be made possible through the software platform Skully is building will eventually transform motorcycling. While technology has marched forward and created motorcycles with electric motors, variable valve timing, fly-by-wire throttles, and onboard diagnostics, helmet design has remained virtually the same since the 1970s except for incremental improvements in comfort and impact resistance. Today’s leading helmet manufacturers should be ashamed that it takes an innovative upstart like Skully to bring true innovation and enhanced safety to the riding experience while they have invested their profits in new color schemes. I have no doubt that the eyes of the helmet manufacturers are focused on Skully’s every move. It will be up to us in the riding community to provide as much support to Skully as we can in this David vs. Goliath struggle. Stay tuned for more as my discovery of the Skully AR-1 moves forward.

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All photos © 2014 Peter Radsliff 

 

REVIEW: MOTO-D Racing – Performance Riding Motorcycle Socks


When MOTO-D Racing asked me to check out their Performance Riding Motorcycle Socks and tell them what I thought, I had no idea how many different makers and types of biker footwear there were! A search on a popular motorcycle store Web site produced 23 different brands selling 141 different models of motorcycle socks. Wow, who knew? And that’s not even counting any regular manufacturer of socks trying to get into the moto action. Each of the companies I found were bona fide motorcycle brands. So I wondered what could be so special about the MOTO-D Racing socks to make them stand out.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksFirst of all, it is not my intent to contrast and compare the MOTO-D socks against all of their competition. I’m sure that would be an interesting article for all you sock buffs out there, but I’m going to make this a quicker read so you can get back to riding. My only points of comparison are with a few pair of thin and thick moto socks I own from a national moto-store retail chain.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksI have two pair of the MOTO-D summer socks and I’ve been wearing them for the past month. I did two different types of tests with them: 1) wearing on weekend rides with regular washing in-between, and 2) wearing while riding everyday for a week straight before washing. Okay, okay…unscrunch your nose already! Amazingly, the pair I wore for a week riding to and from work and all day afterwards never got stinky or gross. I attribute this to their moisture wicking attributes and the unique combination of synthetic fibers.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksThe MOTO-D Socks are made from the fibers shown above. I haven’t been following the state-of-the-art in sock construction lately, but I do know a lot about fiber and fabric technology from the 10 years I spent in the scuba diving equipment manufacturing business. It’s great to see MOTO-D Racing specify high performance synthetic fibers like Tactel® that is twice as soft and 20% lighter than most other fibers.

These socks seem to have just the right amount of stretch and rebound to stay snug and comfortable. They don’t bunch up above the instep and they don’t get loose above the heel or in the arch. The Lycra does its job of providing just the right amount of stretch. In the month that I have been wearing and washing these they have not lost any of their elasticity. Oh, and the metallic-looking Lurex gold thread add a bit of swag when you take off your jeans or leathers after a long ride.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksAnother nice feature is the vented weave on the instep and the moisture-wicking attributes of the fibers. When riding all day in hot weather wearing my SIDI Doha boots, my feet were never swimming in sweat. And they accomplished that feat without the bulk of thicker socks.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksWhat really is different and interesting about the MOTO-D socks are the hundreds of dots on the sole that provide a huge amount of traction. You won’t be doing any Tom Cruise slides in your undies while singing Old Time Rock ’N Roll with these socks on! I wondered why MOTO-D would design these with traction grip soles in the first place, and whether they be comfortable riding and walking. Since I was testing these socks while street and freeway riding, I never used them on or around a track. However, I can only imagine that parts of a paddock might be like my garage and have a slippery painted cement floor. The MOTO-D traction grip soles did an excellent job at providing grip when I was padding around my garage and on my home’s hardwood floors. I was happy to find out that although you can definitely feel the dots on your feet, they didn’t bother me at all when stepping on my pegs while riding.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksIn looking through the 141 socks I found online, I didn’t see any others that had a traction grip sole. I don’t know if this is a MOTO-D Racing exclusive, but it certainly seems unique. I really like how they help keep me from slipping and my impression is that they will also be much more resistant to getting a hole in the bottom of your socks when not wearing your boots.

These socks are sold as one-size fits all, and are listed as fitting from size 8 to 14 shoe size (U.S. male). I have size 13 feet with very large calves and they fit me just fine although at the edge of their stretch in the calf area. It is amazing to me just how elastic these are while still being comfortable and not stretching out of shape. It’s the miracle of modern fiber technology combined with an excellent design.

As of the writing of this post, I found these Performance Riding Motorcycle Socks on the MOTO-D Racing Web site for $14.99 a pair or $29.99 for a three-pack. Compared to the other 141 that I found online, that makes these well-designed performance riding socks a super deal! Hey, but I would be glad to pay a few extra bucks anyway just to have socks I can wear on an extended motorcycle journey that treat my feet well and don’t stink up my other gear.

MOTO-D CoolMax Motorcycle SocksMOTO-D also has a “Fall/Cold” version featuring hollow-core Thermolite fibers. I’ll be picking up three pair of those come October this year. ::

Preview: Skully P1 Heads-Up Display Helmet


If you haven’t heard about the biggest buzz in the motorcycle industry yet, it’s the Skully P1 heads-up display helmet, and it’s only a number of months away from being a reality.
I was invited by Marcus Weller, CEO of Skully Helmets to attend his presentation on
Dec. 5, 2013 at the Piston & Chain motorcycle club in San Francisco to learn more about the P1 and what Skully is trying to achieve.

Skully Helmet and CEO Marcus Weller

Marcus Weller, CEO of Skully Helmets and the Skully P1 heads-up display helmet

The evening started with a casual gathering of club members at the Piston & Chain clubhouse/garage located on Folsom at 9th Street in San Francisco’s SOMA district. Until this event, I didn’t know about the Piston & Chain club and I was impressed by the number of vintage bikes arrayed against both walls at their spacious digs. I was greeted warmly by co-owners Matt and Erica plus the other members of the club and enjoyed pizza and beer prior to the manufacturer’s presentation which Piston & Chain host often.
( click to enlarge photos )

After Marcus arrived, he placed a shrouded object on the main table in front of a projection screen. The crowd quieted and listened with rapt attention to Marcus telling the story of how he literally dreamed up the idea for the helmet.

In 2011, Marcus was riding in Barcelona, Spain and he had an accident. While following a red Smart car into a turn, he quickly looked over his shoulder to check merging traffic. When he turned his head back forwards, the Smart car had stopped in its tracks, resulting in locked brakes and a rear-end smash. Marcus told us he wasn’t seriously injured, but that it left an emotional scar.

He then told us that about six months later, at 3:00 A.M. on a Wednesday, he had a dream where he saw ride imagery and GPS maps floating in front of him. Upon waking up, he pulled out his laptop and searched for what was available and where he might buy it. He found that there was really nothing on the market that matched his dream. That, he said, was the impetus for the Skully P1 helmet which he then unveiled on the table in front of us.

Skully Helmet and Bikes

Marcus explained that Skully was trying to create the world’s most intelligent helmet centered around three core features:

1. Skully Synapse
Skully Synapse is the helmet’s intelligent heads-up display (HUD) platform built upon an “Android spine”—software terminology that I’ll refer to again below. Although heads-up display technology has been around for decades it has never been integrated into a motorcycle helmet in the way Skully is intending. Marcus showed a video that presented his vision and concept for the display:


He went on to say that the display looks as though it is floating out in front of the helmet at about arm’s length and that it can be seen with the visor closed or open. Unfortunately, Marcus didn’t open the P1 helmet—which he characterized as a working prototype—to show any of the optical gadgetry. Nor did he allow anyone to try it on, relating a story of a prospective investor accidentally snapping off the projection mechanism only 24 hours before a big partner meeting. So I cannot report any actual performance from the Skully P1 from this preview event. What I did find out was that value-added software functionality, such as turn-by-turn directions, wasn’t the only benefit envisioned for the P1’s heads-up display.

2. Skully “Ninja” Display
Marcus likened the task of riding a motorcycle to being surrounded by a bunch of ninjas and trying to keep from being attacked by whichever one you weren’t watching. Not a bad analogy considering all of the cagers I see texting on the road every day. The Skully P1 helmet has a rear-facing camera with a super-wide 180° view. Marcus emphasized that this would lead to a radical improvement of visibility for the rider. He mentioned how he wore the prototype in his car when testing and that he could see not only out of the back windows, but out of both sets of side windows as well. This provided him greatly improved situational awareness which he mentioned was one of the high-level benefits of heads-up displays in fighter aircraft, aimed at giving pilots a decisive edge over their enemy.

Skully Helmet - Rear

The Skully P1 180° rear-facing camera with electronics and rechargeable batteries are housed in this stylish, aerodynamic shroud that is engineered to snap off in the event of
an accident to not impart additional rotational stresses on the rider’s head.
 

Many people at Piston & Chain questioned whether the heads-up display would be distracting and Marcus addressed their fears by presenting his concept of seeing all of the ninjas simultaneously. He said that instead of having to look over your shoulder and verify that the view from your mirror was correct and that there was no car in your blind spot, YOU WOULD ALREADY KNOW. This was because you could see 180° behind you and to the sides, removing the need to turn your head and take your eyes away from the road ahead of you.

This system reminds me of a motorcycle-specific version of an aftermarket panoramic rearview car mirror. I have driven a car with one of these before, and the situational awareness you gain from it is amazing. I don’t understand why these have not been integrated into cars by the automobile manufacturers because in my opinion, they greatly improve safety. But they really need to integrated into the driving experience and not just bolted onto an existing mirror. The Skully P1 aims to provide this level of improved situational awareness and safety, but with a much slicker user experience that integrates features other than just an expanded rear view.

Panoramic Rearview Mirror

Panoramic rearview mirrors never gained much popularity in cars, but the Skully 180° rearview heads-up display could change all that for motorcyclists.  

3. Android Open API-Based System
Marcus went on to emphasize that Skully is building an intelligent helmet software platform that will have an open API (application programming interface) with SDK (software development kit). For those less knowledgable about software systems, this is analogous to Apple’s iOS operating system that runs on the iPhone and iPad hardware but allows third-party developers to create custom applications to bring additional functionality to the user experience. For Apple users, this has resulted in the availability of over one million Apps to satisfy every need and want, from providing turn-by-turn directions to playing Candy Crush Saga. For motorcyclists, the Skully platform could mean apps for navigation, travel information, vlogging, communications, or a thousand other features. With minimal integration from motorcycle manufacturers, it would be easy to imagine displays incorporating instrument cluster data, engine diagnostics…even crash avoidance.

Skully has chosen Google’s Android software platform for all of this software wizardry to make their helmet “intelligent.” But even though the helmet may operate using an Android spine, it will allow both Android-based phones and Apple iPhones to run apps that utilize the system. That is, if the community of developers decide to build apps with novel functionality providing added value to motorcyclists, and profit to the developers.

There is always a chicken-and-egg conundrum with platforms like those envisioned by Skully. Developers will come once they see enough users to make it worth the cost of their development dollars. Likewise, motorcyclists may wait to adopt the Skully P1 until it has enough apps and proven value for their dollars. But in this case, it’s a pretty sure bet that the allure of the technology, safety and cool-factor will provide significant demand by motorcyclists. Skully’s 40,000+ beta tester requests have already proven that. Plus, Skully’s decision to leverage the Android toolset for their helmet platform while encouraging apps for both Google and iOS-based phones will please the mobile app developer community. It’s a pretty sure bet that as long as Skully nails the user-experience and delivers a quality helmet that is priced right, riders will line up in droves to check out, and then buy, the Skully P1.

Build it and they will come

Marcus Weller’s field of dreams: he will build it, helmet buyers and app developers will come. With the P1’s core HUD functionality of 180° rear view, plus navigation and phone control, this motorcyclist believes in Skully’s field of dreams. Other benefits from enhanced apps will arrive over time and be gravy for P1 owners. 

Marcus wouldn’t comment on projected pricing for the P1, but he did offer that he was committed to “not pricing it out of people’s reach” while still trying to “make enough money to keep innovating.” Skully is partnering with a major helmet manufacturer to produce the P1 with a “no scrimp design” ethos. Marcus said that he is planning to ship the P1 by “the upcoming riding season” but that this was a very aggressive schedule, and he allowed that this could mean that only the beta helmets might ship “at the very least.

Conclusions
Marcus Weller presented himself as a very confident knowledgeable and likable rider, innovator and entrepreneur. Clearly he has the chops as the lead salesman for the company. The vision he presented for creating “the world’s most intelligent helmet” to prevent accidents and enhance the motorcycling experience was compelling. The motorcycle helmet industry has been ripe for disruption for years. And with more people on two-wheels than ever before, the time is right for Skully Helmets be that disruptor.

I look at the Skully P1 not only as a motorcyclist and writer, but also as the CEO of a software development company myself. Here are my takeaways from Marcus Weller’s presentation and why a Skully P1 will on my head in the near future:

• Spidey-sense:
Who wouldn’t pay a few hundred dollars more for a helmet if it gave you the equivalent of Spiderman’s spider-sense? If I can know that a car in my blind spot is going to veer into my path before it hits me, that’s well worth the investment. And, I don’t even need to get bitten by a radioactive spider!

• A more immersive riding experience: As someone who worked in the scuba diving industry for 17 years, I know all about immersive experiences. That’s why motorcycling is so great: the wind, sun, g-forces…even the rain. Riding allows you to experience the full measure of living. The Skully P1 and potential for new apps will integrate and enhance the riding experience in ways we can barely imagine. 

• Taking motorcycling to the next level: I may be getting ahead of myself with this prediction, but I believe the Skully platform could help advance motorcycling to an entirely new level of safety and enjoyment. Think what might be possible when you combine sensors, cameras, software and a heads-up display? Just imagine: crash prediction and avoidance, new rider training while riding, group ride tracking, low tire pressure alerts…the list of potential benefits are almost endless.

What I also believe is that a P1 helmet could be the next “must have” for every motorcyclist and that the Skully company and its visionary leader, Marcus Weller, are the ones to watch. Good luck, Marcus (oh, and please don’t forget my beta test application). ::

CEO Marcus Weller and his prototype P1 Skully heads-up display motorcycle helmet Marcus Unveils Skully Helmet Piston and Chain motorcycle club members chatting with Skully Helmets CEO Marcus Weller Skully Crew Member Marcus Weller and the Skully Crew

Skully Helmet - B&W

Review: Why We Ride – The Movie


Why We Ride Movie

Yesterday I saw the new documentary movie “Why We Ride” at the AMC 14 theaters in San Francisco along with a hundred or so other motorcycle fanatics. I’ve never seen so many helmets in a theater at one time.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie which walked in the footsteps of Bruce Brown’s 1971 classic “On Any Sunday” and many of Warren Miller’s ski films. The cinematography was outstanding and the flow of the film worked well.

But recently, I have been watching a lot of motorcycling documentaries and it seemed to me that what Why We Ride lacked was why a non-motorcyclists would enjoy the movie. A few months ago, I discovered Evan McGregor’s “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down” mini-series. I recommended those to my sister who has no interest in motorcycling whatsoever. She was captivated by the story, partly because of the adventure, but mostly because of the incredible friendship that comes across onscreen between Ewan and Charlie. That was the real story of Long War Round, the phenomenal bond between two blokes, who happen to ride motorcycles and who embark on an incredible adventure. By contrast, Why We Ride seemed to be more of a public service announcement for motorcycling, especially for the family-friendly aspects of the sport.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the film and think that a love letter about motorcycling is something that is needed. The only problem with Why We Ride is that it will only be seen by people who already ride. There is no overarching story that would cause a non-motorcyclist to care about the movie.

And maybe that is okay. Maybe that is the way that all enthusiast documentaries about a specific sport our activity end up. Maybe this movie will play well with the seven million or so motorcyclists in the U.S. and maybe that’s enough. But I can’t help but wish for a deeper story that would keep me coming back to the movie time and again, or to recommend it to my non-moto friends. Why We Ride, is not one of those movies. It will remain as a beautifully shot and well told story about motorcycling, for motorcyclists. Or, for a husband to convince his wife that it’s okay to get mini-dirt bikes for the kids. There is a LOT of that message in the movie.

So congratulations to the director and producer. And know that I, and many others, will indeed buy the DVD. But please also take this as encouragement to keep going and take your prodigious cinematography and moviemaking skills and tell other, deeper stories about the human condition on two wheels. In my opinion, only then will you really get across the story of Why We Ride to those who don’t already know the answer.

What did you think? Please leave a comment below.

2013 International Motorcycle Show, San Mateo: Part 4 – The Show


( continued from Part 3 – The Demo Rides )

A Love Affair…And A Rant
I really enjoyed attending and photographing the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in San Mateo this year. However, having enjoyed the show for the past three years, I couldn’t help but notice it seems to have downsized a bit. I remember when there were additional halls of the Expo Center that were full of vintage bikes, a stunt bike exhibition in the front parking lot, and an entire wing of affordable accessories. I was told by an exhibitor that it is difficult to attract as many exhibiting companies as there used to be when the bulk of the accessory business now goes to online retailers. Personally, I wouldn’t blame this on a shift in the retail landscape, I would offer that it is industry leadership that needs to be improved. But ultimately, it will take everyone in the motorcycling community to support these shows if we want them to exist in the future. And that means us, the riders.

The good news is that I photographed a sea of bikes in the parking lot Saturday, and the show even seemed well attended Friday evening. I was also happy to see a large section presented by The Motor Cafe, a local dealer from Sunnyvale. But where was the participation from other Bay Area dealers? Where was GoPro, who is headquartered in San Mateo? Or Kali Protectives, one of the most interesting players in the helmet space, also a local company? And did I miss something, or where was Zero Motorcycles, arguably the most interesting new bike manufacturer, and also a Bay Area company? It’s easy to say that these and other companies just decided not to participate—for budget reasons or other priorities. But I would suggest that the show management should make it a strategic imperative for these companies to attend, because of the incredible business opportunity it represents for their businesses, and for the industry as a whole.

In my humble opinion, it seems that some things could be done to ramp up the show for the good of the industry stakeholders and the motorcycling community at large. Here are a few ideas from someone who is not from within the industry, offered with respect, and for what they’re worth:

Learn to Ride
I would encourage the show to adopt a robust “Learn to Ride” program sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Why not offer a discount on enrollment to any MSF course by a show attendee that equals the cost of a 3-day show pass? It would be a great way to encourage prospective or even experienced riders to attend the show. Give the MSF or local schools booth space for free in order to make it happen.

Conference Sessions
Offer conference sessions in a separate hall that provide educational opportunities to attendees. I could envision a seminar by an expert from GoPro on how to get the best ride videos, or a talk by Doc Wong on how to get your back in shape for adventure rides, or a talk by Brian or Michael from Destination Highways on the right way to plan a route. It would be a great way for exhibitors to talk to larger groups of attendees and for attendees to get great information. And this needs to be in a separate hall, not on the main stage where it is too loud with too many distractions.

Keith Code’s California Superbike School
With the San Mateo show being only a two-hour ride from Infineon or Laguna Seca race tracks, why don’t you create a partnership with this famous riding academy that gives Keith a booth at the show and, in turn, partner to host a demo day at one of the tracks? The show could draw attendees for the whole weekend with a three-day show pass and one-day track pass to watch, or ride. I bet riders would come from all over the West to attend a full weekend of motorcycle activities if it included the excitement of riding.

Point/Counterpoint Panel Sessions
Remember those wickedly funny Saturday Night Live skits that parodied 60 Minutes’ Point/Counterpoint? The reason they were so infamous was not just because they were funny, it was because people like to observe conflict. I’d like to see a serious panel discussion that had a member of the California Highway Patrol, a 15,000+ mile/year freeway commuter, and a “loud pipes save lives” biker all discussing the merits and best practices of lane splitting. By encouraging discussion about the elephants in the room, the show would drive attendee engagement, and probably raise safety awareness too.

Where is motorcycling’s Warren Miller?
The ski industry has Warren Miller’s films to answer the question, “Why do people love skiing?” Where is motorcycling’s Warren Miller? How about a screening of On Any Sunday, Cycles South, or clips from The Great Escape or The Long Way Round? Looking at YouTube, there are many talented moto-filmmakers out there (and even more that could use some more talent). Why doesn’t the show get GoPro to sponsor a contest with big prize money around the theme, “Why We Ride.” The finalists could be shown at the 12 shows around the country and the attendees could vote onsite for the winner.

You Meet The Nicest People
Especially after the recent episode in New York, motorcycling could use a boost of good will in the local media around the country. Could the show offer a poker ride on Friday before the show in each city to benefit a national charity? If done right, it could be a good story for local news media which would help promote the show while taming motorist angst against our breed.

What The Show Really Needs
But aside from specific ideas for the show, I offer that what attendees are really looking for is…
– To do something
– To learn something
– To enjoy something
– To belong to something
– To share something

You tell me!

Photos from the Show
Okay, okay…so that’s enough of my rant. Here are more photos from this year’s show (roll-over photos for captions or click for full-screen mode):

Final Thoughts from This Industry Outsider
I’m the first to admit, what the Hell do I know about the motorcycle industry? It’s easy to offer ideas from the outside of an industry looking in without knowing the history, business realities and political struggles that are faced by the show organizers. Although the ideas above come from 30+ years as a marketer, they may well have been tried and discarded as failures years ago. To the show management Advanstar, I commend you for putting on a well-run show. And to Progressive, for showing leadership in this category, you deserve your number one spot. But if the intent is for all boats to rise in this industry, I encourage everyone to achieve new levels of leadership. And to consider doing this through even deeper partnerships and increased participation from all industry stakeholders. Carving up the same pie into different sized pieces should not be your goal. Growing the pie for all to benefit from should be your aim. The downsizing of the show does not go unnoticed by the attendees. I heard from more than a few people that the show is suffering from being smaller and with the same features—more or less—year after year. What I am hearing is apathy from the attendees, not for the sport, but for the show. It’s time to consider what the industry impact would be if these shows did not exist, and decide to do something about it before it is too late. To that aim, I wish you all the best. Ride On. ::