Intelligent Cranium's iC-R – the most ambitious smart motorcycle helmet yet

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Intelligent Cranium's iC-R helmet is the most ambitious high-tech helmet project we've seen to date - twin rear vision cameras, twin transparent LCD heads-up displays, built in GPS, Bluetooth intercom, phone connectivity, LiDAR collision warnings, and an electronically tinting visor, all topped off with a built-in solar panel.(Credit: Intelligent Cranium)

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The Intelligent Cranium iC-R motorcycle helmet is a design concept stuffed to the gills with futuristic functionality. We're talking twin full-colour LED heads-up displays, twin rear-facing cameras, built-in Bluetooth communications, phone connectivity, voice controls, LiDAR rear-ender collision warnings, and an electronically controlled LCD visor that tints itself dark at the touch of a button. There will be more electronics stuffed into this brain bucket than the Skully, Livemap or Nuviz efforts (none of which seem close to actually delivering a product yet), so battery life will be an issue. To combat this, the iC-R helmet has a solar panel built into the top of it to charge as you ride. All this for a projected retail price of US$1600. Can it be done?

Let's take a quick look at each of the iC-R's features, starting with the twin heads-up displays. Sourced from a German company, these transparent LCD screens operate interchangeably as rear-view systems as well as heads-up data displays.

By default, these displays show vision from the rear-facing cameras, providing a 210-degree field of rearward view. "Looking at Skully's product, they've got a wide-angle camera that gives the rider 180 degrees, which is a great field of view," Intelligent Cranium CEO Ambrose Dodson tells us. "But once a vehicle gets past that field of view, the rider still has a blind spot. Two cameras and 210 degrees of view completely eliminates that blind spot."

That 360-degree vision idea is the heart of this entire project. Dodson, not a motorcyclist himself, noticed that bikers around him in traffic had to turn their heads and take their eyes off the road in front of them in order to safely change lanes. "I saw this as a really big issue for motorcycle riders, and started thinking about what I could do to make riding safer," Dodson says, "both for current riders, and for myself in the future. I've been wanting to ride a motorcycle for the longest time."

The twin screens can also be set to show navigation, speed, telemetry and call data from your smartphone, as well as media information and anything else people can devise to show on there, because the iC-R plans to ship with an open SDK for app developers to use the screens as they please. The helmet has its own built-in GPS unit to give you an accurate heads-up speedometer, as long as you're not riding in a tunnel.

The Bluetooth communications component includes helmet-to-helmet communications with other riders, as well as mobile phone connectivity for calls, audio and navigation streaming. It's also designed to take voice commands.

The e-tint visor is impregnated with LCD crystals that darken "in less than a second" when a low voltage current is applied, to give you an instant tinted visor at the touch of a button. In the event of a power failure, the visor defaults back to clear.

The collision proximity warnings are an unique touch - the helmet has a built-in LiDAR sensor facing backwards to warn riders about potential rear-enders, for example while waiting at traffic lights. The sensors will gauge the proximity and approach speed of a following vehicle and flash LED warning lights into the rider's periphery of view if it's starting to look like somebody might run into the back of you. It seems like an expensive addition given that you've already got twin rear-facing cameras that should show you exactly what's happening behind you, but Dodson says it's mainly there to assist at night, when the rear vision might not be so easy to interpret.

Two video cameras, two heads-up screens, a Bluetooth comms system, audio gear, GPS and a LiDAR system - in technical terms, that's a boatload of electronics to run. The battery will need to be enormous. Dodson tells me the design team is shooting for an 8-hour battery life from a single charge.

Put it this way – the Sena 10C headset has one camera, a Bluetooth communications kit, and no screens, and that lasts two hours on a battery. The iC-R is much more ambitious; it will need a monster power pack. The iC-R team will hopefully get back to us soon with an estimated capacity, and we'll update this piece when they do. There's also the challenge of where to pack a potentially volatile LiPo pack to prevent it from getting punctured in an accident and giving riders a bad case of BBQ noggin.

The solar panel built into the top of the lid will help the battery out during the daytime, but I don't have a great sense of how much. The panel itself looks maybe 5 or 10 times the size of the kind of thing you'd see on a solar charging LED flashlight, but obviously the iC-R has a ton more power-hungry gear to run. Hopefully the team can provide us some numbers on what kind of extra battery life we can expect the solar panel to provide over a day's riding. Stay tuned.

I have my doubts about whether full color, programmable high-res video screens will be looked upon favorably in the DOT accreditation process, particularly if they can be set to play a video while you ride thanks to the open SDK. That could be a challenge – and keeping the weight down with such a lot of on-board electronics will be tough as well. But likewise these are challenges Skully has already faced to get its DOT and ECE approval stickers, so potentially the trail has been blazed for competitors like the iC-R.

Then there's the pricing. The Skully AR-1, which is at this point still just a prototype with promises of June delivery now delayed to December this year, is pre-selling for US$1499 – that's without a solar panel, a second display, a second rear view camera or this LiDAR proximity warning business. Intelligent Cranium plans to sell you the iC-R for US$1399 if you pre-order. Is that price point achievable? "I believe it is," says Dodson. "It takes research and the right partnerships to get it there. Looking at our projected costs, I suspect that Skully has built in a very healthy profit margin."

Intelligent Cranium has specced out the most ambitious high-tech smart helmet to date. We wish Dodson and the team the best of luck getting funded through their iC-R Indiegogo campaign, which has just gone live, and we hope to play with a production model sometime around 2017, the projected "no later than" launch date.

Check out the launch video below.

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