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Is A Motorcyclist’s ‘Head Up’ Display A Potential Accident Risk?

23rd September 2013

Helmet-mounted, optical display – good for uninterrupted focusing on the road or will it simply create tunnel vision, increase accident risk and even create a new type of motorbike accident claim?

Creators of augmented reality display technology, often seen in sci-fi movies, have been eyeing up the real-world marketplace for quite some time. In fact, the principle of “head-up” reflector sight – a superimposed image of a sight ring focused at infinity used by World War Two fighter planes - was first patented in 1901 for submarine periscopes, and helmet-mounted display has long been a standard piece of kit worn by military pilots.

While Google is busy trying to convince pedestrians that Google Glass is the next, must-have, interactive information technology for augmenting our everyday view of the world, a Russian company, LiveMap, has spent the last five years developing a prototype, in-helmet GPS-based, optical system for motorcyclists.

Uninterrupted journey experience.

The aim is to create an uninterrupted journey experience. Currently, a motorcyclist needs to temporarily look down or away from the road ahead to view their GPS device, which is also separately controlled via buttons or touchscreen. In 2014, helmet-mounted, optical display of GPS-based route information, which will be controlled by a natural language voice-command system like the iPhone “Siri”, is due to be launched in Europe, including the UK. 

The helmet shell interior will contain a display projector mounted above and behind the wearer’s head. Navigation GPS mapping data, is projected by being superimposed onto the visor’s “visual field”. Focused at infinity, the user's eyes will not need to repeatedly focus from one image to the other, and requests for new information can be spoken into a microphone.

Undivided attention still compromised?

Returning to the original question – will the presence of the additional, superimposed GPS data feed  seriously compromise the motorcyclist’s reliance on the need to be alert at all times to anticipate motorist behaviour and related road / traffic conditions?

The answer may be even more complicated by the news that next generation vehicle windscreens may also soon be commercially available to provide augmented reality data displays.

Although not due for release until 2018, General Motors  have developed a new “enhanced vision system”, which highlights landmarks, obstacles and road edges on the windshield in real-time. Motorist “head-up” displays have already been installed in high end vehicles to display information, such as speed or directions.

There could be implications for distraction and accident risk by all road users. In 2008, a study conducted in the US found that “talking on a hands-free phone was more distracting than talking to a passenger.”

Will focusing on display data, even though it is virtually in the sightline of the road view ahead still be an unsafe distraction from “undivided” attention?

Click here to find out more about the LiveMap optical display motorcycle helmet.