The most crucial piece of motorcycle safety gear is often explored as an exploitable field for add-on safety systems. Privileged with high-visibility positioning, helmets can be outfitted with head-up display kits, intelligent brake lights, or, as Zona now proposes, the feed from a rear view camera.
Rear view mirrors are a common feature on vehicles produced for use in public roads since the dawn of motorized transport, despite the fact that modern technology could easily replace them with widely used inexpensive parts.
Often prototype cars or bikes feature displays from rear-viewing cameras directly in their instrument panels, but in most production models these are limited to the expanding trend of parking assists.
As for motorcycles, fitting a camera kit is easy and affordable, but requires a display up front – with smartphones often assigned to the task. The main advantage of a rear-facing camera is eliminating blind spots for a wide and uninterrupted view to the back. The drawback is that it adds another distraction to lure the eyes away from the road for a possibly-critical couple of seconds.
Jam Technology Limited from northern England now offers a display kit that feeds directly to the eye. The Zona is comprised of a digital camera that is fixed permanently on the license plate and is hardwired to the bike's battery, a wireless receiver attached to the back of the helmet, and a display arm that fits to the inside of the helmet.
The camera itself incorporates a gyroscope and a three-axis accelerometer, used to control its operation; once the motorcycle has been idle for three minutes, it goes into sleep mode, only to wake up once it detects motion again. It is complemented by a memory stick that records the captured footage in loops – when it's full, it starts overwriting previous data.
The live feed is wirelessly transmitted to a small display bracket that can be fitted to any helmet, on whichever side the user prefers, simply by wedging it between the cheek pad and the inner shell. Zona suggests that the correct position for the display tip is slightly below eye level, so that it doesn't interfere with the direct line of sight, while sitting within the rider's peripheral view. The result is described as being like looking at a 30-inch display three meters (9.8 ft) away.
The camera's resolution is limited to VGA (640 x 480), as the nature of the display medium suggests that a finer input would compromise performance without returning any actual benefits. According to Zona, a lot of work was put into the software that handles low-light captures and anti-glaring functions for a clear image under any conditions. Also, data from the gyro and accelerometer sensors are employed for image smoothing against vibrations, incurred either from the motorcycle's engine, or by road anomalies.
The wireless receiver is a small plastic box that weighs just 71 g (2.5 oz) and connects over an encrypted protocol with the camera. It can be fixed on any helmet by two adhesive mounts, making it easy to shift between helmets. The receiver carries its own rechargeable battery that can support up to 10 hours of use and can be charged via a mini-USB port, either directly from a powerline, or from a USB outlet – even on the go, by plugging into the relevant connector on the main harness that powers the camera.
Zona's rear-view kit simply pairs a digital action camera with a display system that is supposed to be non-intrusive and, ultimately, beneficial. Zona suggests that it takes just a few minutes to first get accustomed to the novelty, and from then on the visual information from behind is instantly accessible with minimal impact on what's most important, attention to the view ahead.
When it hits the shelves, the Zona system will retail for £239 (about US$308), but pre-ordering now guarantees early July delivery at the discounted price of £195 ($250). It is compatible with most motorcycle and helmet makes, reportedly works fine for riders that wear glasses, and its installation process seems quite simple – as detailed in the following video.
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