John Poindexter, a designer at the Austin, Texas-based mobile studio Chaotic Moon, was riding his bike on the city’s streets when car hit him and drove away. Like many cyclists involved in hit and runs, Poindexter was too dazed in the aftermath of the accident to remember any identifying details of the vehicle—in fact, he landed in the hospital and had no recollection of what happened at all. Chaotic Moon’s solution: Create a helmet that can tell cyclists’ stories for them. It’s called, appropriately enough, the Helmet of Justice.
Chaotic Moon is known for building mobile products for big name clients like Fox, Microsoft, and Disney. A helmet is a little out of the company’s wheelhouse. Nonetheless, the team cobbled together this brain bucket outfitted with seven cameras along with a software solution to easily let people upload data in just 10 days. "We didn’t build the helmet and cameras, but we wrote the software to talk to everything, record it in real time, and pull together different types of sensor data," explains Ben Lamm, CEO of Chaotic Moon.
The seven mini-cameras, secured in the helmet’s air vents with a layer of foam, record video at 30 frames per second with a resolution of 720x480 (that will be upgraded in the next version). They provide a 360-degree view of an accident as it happens. All of the core data is saved in a detachable USB drive integrated into the helmet. "A paramedic could pull the USB drive out, stick it in a laptop, and see what happened," says Lamm.
In the current version of the helmet, accelerometers sense when a cyclist experiences jarring movement and begins recording (there’s enough space to record for up to two hours). Future versions might have the cameras turn on when something is coming straight towards the cyclists so that there’s data both pre-and post-crash. From what Chaotic Moon can tell based on dummy tests, the cameras and data will survive intact after accidents.
There are cyclists content to ride around with action cams strapped to their heads (see this New York Times article for more on the trend). But that’s not a viable solution for everyone, especially if you’re opting for more of a sleek, cool look. A helmet with tiny embedded cameras is much simpler to deal with, not to mention more attractive.
Chaotic Moon is now in talks with major helmet manufacturers about licensing the product. Depending on what the manufacturer wants, the mobile studio may continue working on the software throughout the product’s development. "Our long-term focus is continuously designing and building best-in-class software—that would be our focus if it’s what’s best for the product, the people funding it and what they essentially want to do," says Lamm.
This kind of technology doesn’t come cheap. "It costs around $300 for a one-off helmet to make a profit," says Lamm. But a manufacturer with a large supply chain could probably bring costs down. And if the helmet can catch hit-and-run drivers and tell paramedics exactly what happened to injured cyclists, it’s worth it.