How airbag jeans and high-tech vests could make motorbikes safer

Balanced without a protective shield on two wheels, riding a motorbike is much riskier than driving four vehicles.

According to a report of the U.S. NHTSA(The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), 13 cars out of every 100,000 are involved in a fatal accident, but motorcycles have a fatality rate of 72 per 100,000.

Motorcyclists are also at a greater risk of a fatal accident per mile traveled. For every mile traveled, motorcyclists have a risk of a fatal accident that is 35 times higher than a car driver.

Since riders are not shielded by steel and are usually thrown from the bike during a crash, motorcycle accidents are generally more dangerous than car accidents for drivers and occupants.

But airbag inventions could help keep motorcyclists safe.

Moses Shahrivar designed his first pair of motorcycle jeans in collaboration with Harley-Davidson Sweden 16 years ago. Featuring a protective leather lining.

Now he is going a step forward with his idea. His company Airbag Inside Sweden AB has designed a prototype pair of super-strong jeans that have concealed airbags inside the legs.

As these jeans are filled with airbags, which will trigger if motorcyclists fall from their bike, effects into lessening the impact on the lower body. The airbag can then be deflated, refilled with gas, and reassembled into the jeans to use again, according to Shahrivar.

Airbag Inside Sweden AB is in the process of getting the jeans certified to European health and safety standards and is putting them through a series of crash tests.

Shahrivar says it’s the first time this kind of protection will be available for the lower body.

The company has raised €150,000 ($180,000) from the European Union to develop the idea and is hoping to bring the jeans to market in 2022.

Airbag vests to protect the upper body


Equivalent technology for the upper body has been around for more than 20 years. Motorcycle airbag vests can be fitted under a jacket, and protect the chest, neck, and sometimes the back.

In Early versions, tether was used to activate airbags, but now autonomous electronic airbags have been developed by French firm In&motion.

In 2011, the company began manufacturing wearable airbags for experienced skiers and has adapted the technology for motorcyclists since then.

It has developed a “brain” consisting of a GPS, gyroscope, and accelerometer rather than using a tether to activate airbags. This box is a little larger than a smartphone and is mounted on the back of any compatible vest.

“The sensors measure movements in real-time and the algorithm can detect a fall or an accident to inflate the airbag just before a crash,” In&motion communication manager Anne-Laure Hoegeli said to CNN business.

The box measures the position of the rider 1,000 times per second. As soon as an “unrecoverable imbalance” is detected the airbag triggers and fully inflates to protect the user’s thorax, abdomen, neck, and spine, explains Hoegeli. This takes just 60 milliseconds.

In&motion recently raised €10 million ($12 million) in funding to expand in Europe and the United States.

Emma Franklin, the deputy editor of Motorcycle News, explains, In&motion has an affordable subscription service. Riders can either buy the box outright for $400 or rent it from In&motion for about $120 a year. Users in France also have access to a setting that calls emergency services in the event of a crash.

Richard Frampton, a senior lecturer in vehicle safety at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom said “there hasn’t been much academic research into the effectiveness of motorcycle airbag vests, as they are still fairly new for road riders”.

Richard pointed to the research of the French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, which found airbag vests offered good protection at impact speeds lower than around 30 to 40 kilometers per hour (18 to 25 miles per hour).

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