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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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). ::