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BMW Just Debuted a Sci-Fi Motorcycle Helmet

BMW is bringing augmented reality to motorcycle helmets through DigiLens technology.BMW is bringing augmented reality to motorcycle helmets through DigiLens technology.
BMW is bringing augmented reality to motorcycle helmets through DigiLens technology.DigiLens

F-35 fighter pilots have been using augmented reality built into their helmets for years to keep an eye on the plane’s gauges, monitors, and weapons systems without having to look down. Now that technology is coming to motorcycle riders, courtesy of BMW and DigiLens.

The two companies on Wednesday introduced displays for inside motorcycle helmets that let drivers keep tabs on their gas levels and RPMs without glancing down from the road. The helmet also features front and rear mounted cameras that relay video that riders can watch in their visor.

It’s like the Google Glass 2.0 for motorcycle helmets.

“This technology has the potential to enhance the riding experience by making it easier to see what is behind you, as well as keeping important information in the rider’s field of view,” says Robert Richter, senior advanced technology engineer at the BMW Group Technology Office USA.

The technology is a compact version of what DigiLens’ partner Rockwell Collins sells for military use to companies like Boeing, to give pilots additional control over the aircraft. That aircraft technology has recently expanded to business jets and regional aircraft, including the Embraer Legacy 500 and 600.

The technology for motorcyclists involves a color display about as thin as eyeglasses that fits within helmets. It magnetically clips into the helmet in front of the riders’ eye, avoiding any disruption to their line of sight while accommodating eyeglasses.

DigiLens founder and CTO Jonathan Waldern says the display is so lightweight and simple that it is almost disposable. In high volume, the piece only costs $10 to manufacture.

BMW is the first company to license the DigiLens technology. The automaker has previously used the technology in its MINI augmented vision glasses, which debuted at the Auto Shanghai show in China in April. So exploring the technology for its motorcycles is a natural extension, according to Richter.

“Just as in our vehicles, BMW sees this technology as wholly complimentary to traditional gauges,” he says. “This is technology that can enhance both safety and convenience.”

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Other companies like Skully make helmets with augmented reality built in. Waldern says the key differentiator in DigiLens’ technology is in the display, which he said is transparent so that the field of view is unimpaired.

“Alternative methods force you to look down in the helmet, so you’re taking your eyes off the horizon line to look at a very small display that crams all the information in one place,” Waldern.

He says that two blind spots typically are the cause of most bike accidents. Augmented reality, connected through sensors that can be placed around the bike, can warn the rider when vehicles are close by displaying within the helmet.

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In the future, Waldern believes the motorcycle industry will follow the aircraft and automobile industries. China has mandated that every aircraft have a HUD, for heads up display, that shows relevant information to pilots in the cockpit. In the U.S., every auto manufacturer will install similar displays in every car in the near future, according to Waldern.

“You can’t fly the F-35 aircraft without the helmet because it’s been designed so that the HUD is an intrinsic part of the plane,” Waldern says. “We see that opportunity for the motorcyclicst. The HUD will eventually become part of the bike design and the bike itself, where ultimately you won’t need to have any instruments on the bike.”