New heads-up helmet display tech has almost limitless potential

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Swiss firm Aegis Rider AG is using augmented reality to create a helmet that seamlessly integrates information into the view ahead.

It’s an idea with virtually limitless potential, from providing real-time hazard warnings by highlighting threats as they emerge, to coaching the rider with suggested speeds and cornering lines, or presenting satnav instructions superimposed on the road itself.

Already undergoing tests as a third-generation prototype, the system features on-bike cameras and a central computing unit allied to sensors monitoring speed and lean angle as well as GPS data to locate the bike.

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This gets cross-referenced with detailed maps that include info about speed limits and road characteristics.

Although it would be possible to display such warnings on a traditional dashboard, there’s a risk that this would take the rider’s eye off the road, so the system is integrated with an augmented reality helmet.

The system also monitors the helmet’s precise position and orientation in relation to the bike, so the warnings can be superimposed at just the right spot. Aegis Rider is supported by ETH Zurich university where company founder Simon Hecker was awarded his PhD for research on autonomous driving systems.

 Founder Simon Hecker is a motorcyclist himself

He said: “I ride a motorcycle myself, so I’m aware of the large gap between the safety systems of modern cars and motorcycles.

“We’ve been working on this for about a year-and-a-half and have a third iteration of working prototype now, so we’re able to ride with it and have it show relevant 3D content or objects anywhere relative to the bike and anchored in the real world.

“For example, give me a GPS location and I’ll render whatever 3D object you want there so when you ride past, you’ll actually see it rendered at that point.”

And it could all happen in real time, as Hecker explains: “With an oil spill, for example, you could go for a community-driven approach, where people can put an alert out to other riders in the vicinity, and with our system you could visualise its location.”

Initial versions combine the helmet with an on-bike computer and sensors, but the firm believe a helmet-only kit is possible.

HUD helmets could begin to arrive next year

Hecker added: “If you look at a bike like the BMW R1250RT, which has a radar, an IMU, GPS etc built-in, a lot of the sensors we need are already present, and we expect that in the next two to three years we’ll also see cameras on motorcycles.

“At that stage, we should be able to have a helmet-only solution. On the other hand, the system we have now, with its own computer unit, has the advantage that it can be retro-fitted to any bike.

“In the end, we want our AR helmet to be indistinguishable from any regular motorcycle helmet. The goal is to have a wireless connection to the helmet.

“We started with four cables, then went down to two on the second iteration. Now we’re down to one cable on the third iteration and ideally we’d make it completely wireless in the future.

“The pace of this industry is so fast that there are many more opportunities down the road, even to the point where computer element could be in the cloud, transmitting directly to the helmet using 5G.”

Initially, Aegis Rider want to have a version targeting tech-savvy early-adopters in production by next summer, with later developments leading to more affordable, mainstream versions in the future.

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Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis