We traveled out to Alpinestars' U.S. headquarters near Los Angeles, California today so that the giant manufacturer of automotive and motorcycle safety gear could show us its latest high-tech hardware. The most important aspect of the visit was a closely held trade secret, but it's now out in the open: the Tech Air Race motorcycle suit.
Airbags in motorcycle suits aren't necessarily anything new, but the big breakthrough here is that the system is small enough to be integrated directly into the Electronic Airbag Protection Suit and is controlled by a high-tech electronic brain. As Alpinestars says, a motorcycle crash isn't all that difficult to describe in words, but in mathematical terms, things get much more difficult.
As such, there is a very complicated set of algorithms that are constantly monitoring the rider's movements, and there are five levels of programing that ensures the airbag doesn't deploy when it's not necessary. First and foremost, though, the system does not arm unless it senses the rider is moving and the engine is running. Interestingly, it's been tested on machines powered by both internal combustion engines and electric motors.
It takes a total of about eight milliseconds for the electronic brain to determine whether a crash is imminent. Once the seven sensors placed all over the suit trigger the airbag system, it takes just 50 milliseconds to fully inflate and stays fully inflated for about five seconds. After 25 seconds or so, the bag completely deflates. After the event, a GPS system is used to help determine exactly where the accident took place.
Alpinestars' airbag system includes two separate cylinders that set off a cold charge of nitrogen. It takes roughly one minute for the system to rearm itself after the initial firing. Currently, Ben Spies, Mika Kallio and Dani Pedrosa are running the data logging suits at MotoGP races.
So, what does the future hold for the Tech Air technology? Alpinestars promises that there will be applications for racing, street and even off-road riding. Currently, the initial consumer-ready suits are targeted for June of 2011, and other applications will follow in the coming years.
Time will tell how effective such active safety technologies prove, but Alpinestars' data certainly looks compelling. At present, the technology is expected to add roughly $2,500 to the cost of a standard suit. A hefty tag for sure, but it's tough to put a price on safety.
Click past the break to watch a video of the airbag being deployed on a rider.