Smart helmet buzzes cyclists' bones with music and communications
It isn't just bicycles that are getting smarter; bicycling accessories like helmets and gloves have also been hitting the books. The latest example on its way to streets, the Coros Linx smart helmet pulls those irritating, dangerous earbuds out of the cyclist's ears, using bone conduction for music play, hands-free calling and other audio features. It also promises automatic emergency notifications, two-way radio communications and more.
The dilemma of how to listen to music while running, bicycling, snowboarding and doing all other forms of outdoor sport in the middle of throngs of people and machines has led the tech world in a lot of interesting directions, including shoulder speakers and micro-buds. Bone conduction is arguably the most intriguing, and we've seen it in everything from sunglasses, to hats, to headbands. It works by sending sound waves vibrating down your bones into your inner ear, instead of shooting them into your ear canal. The wearer gets the audio he or she wants without plugging up the ears and falling off into a private soundscape isolated from his or her surroundings.
Based in Redmond, Washington, startup Coros Wearables has another way to wear bone conduction: a smart bicycle helmet. We've seen bone conduction military helmets before, but Coros claims to be the first to offer a bicycle helmet with this type of configuration. And it's backed by some impressive experience, its president and co-founder Chuck Frizelle having previously served directorial and managerial roles at companies like Microsoft, Plantronics and Xbox.
Coros' Linx helmet looks like a standard cycling helmet outside, but it's anything but standard beyond the polycarbonate shell and EPS foam. The helmet connects with iOS and Android smartphones via Bluetooth 4.0 and an accompanying app, bringing music, phone calls, voice navigation and other features directly to the head.
Bone conduction transducers built into the straps sit atop the cheekbones and bring all that audio to life without plugging the ears or tying the face up in wires. Since the transducers are built into the adjustable straps, it's easy to tweak them for the best sound. A wind-resistant microphone in the front of the helmet transmits speech. The helmet works with a handlebar-mounted wireless remote control, which takes care of things like call answering, volume and track control. A rechargeable lithium battery provides an estimated 10+ hours of audio.
Beyond its audio prowess, the Linx also has another smart feature. Using a built-in G-sensor, it can detect a crash and automatically notify an emergency contact, helping to facilitate rescue even if you're unconscious or incapacitated without phone access. That's not a completely original feature, as we've seen it in products like the Livall helmet and ICEdot, but it does add another nice function to the Linx's "smart hardware credentials" list.
Nuts and bolts-wise, the Linx has a "high-speed, low-drag aerodynamic road cycling design" with 15 vents. In other words, it doesn't look or feel like an oversized shell stuffed with electronics, a claim we can support based upon a fitting.
More specifically, the Linx weighs a listed 380 g (13.4 oz, medium size). Based upon a quick look around the market, that's about 100+ grams/3.5+ oz more than you might expect a standard cycling helmet to weigh. So the hardware does add some weight to the spec sheet, but when we tried it on, it didn't feel overly heavy or bulky, at least not during the brief demo we did at the Outdoor Retailer show. How it feels after miles in the saddle or for a racer that counts every gram are different questions. We were able to hold a conversation while listening to music, verifying that the bone conduction plays the Bluetooth audio without impeding one's ability to hear other sounds.
We're in the process of securing a Coros helmet for actual on-bike testing and will report our experience after some time using it.
Coros plans to launch a Kickstarter next month, and from what it tells us, it won't be the usual startup plea of "help us get this [cool product] into production!" It says the first batch of Linx helmets is already built, and it plans to start shipping in late October, not long after the campaign concludes. It intends to offer the helmets to Kickstarters at $100, 50 percent off the planned retail price, and since manufacturing is already up and running, the raised money will be used to condense its original development road map, getting new features and products to market more quickly.
The most interesting of the future features we hear tell of is a walkie-talkie mode that will pair a radio unit in your pack with the bone conduction system, delivering two-way communications with other cyclists in your group, no need for a cell signal. The remote control already includes a dedicated button for that feature.
Beyond that, Coros will be building out its app, with plans to make it compatible with popular products like Strava and MapMyRide, and designing shapes and styles for other sports.