The future’s here…why we’ll all be wearing airbags soon

Pedrosa 1Pedrosa Q2 Assen 2013 FULL BODY inflatedTechAir - riding image_Airbag_Position_2132014Marquez Mugello data

Airbag technology may be are prohibitively expensive at the moment, but it works, and once the cost comes down this is kit we’ll all be wearing. Airbag leather suits are a familiar site on our TV screens, with stars from the MotoGP and road racing world now wearing air suits – Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Cal Crutchlow can be seen putting the Alpinestars Tech Air suit through its paces while Valentino Rossi, Stefan Bradl, Pol Espargaro and Guy Martin all sport Dainese’s D-Air Racing system. The giveaway is the electronic monitoring LEDs flashing away on the left forearm and shoulder respectively.

And they seem to work too. Dainese claim that none of the 306 crashes by riders wearing the D-air Racing System between 2007 and 2013 have resulted in fractures to the collarbone and shoulder joint areas, which is remarkable when you consider the forces generated in high speed spills.

Alpinestars began work on airbag technology in 2001, and since then their suit has developed into a fully-electronic and wireless airbag system which offers comprehensive protection to large areas of the body – this season Marquez and Pedrosa are testing one-piece airbag systems that offer protection to the shoulders, full back, torso sides and hips.

This new system uses an airbag that is eight times greater in volume than its predecessor – it’s constructed using a special weaving technique which does away with stitched seams to secure the bag within the suit. As on the previous model, the system is operated by a micro-processor which is powered by an internal battery connected to an inflator module, and is housed in a special shockproof casing. The battery, which is housed in the suit’s aerodynamic hump, offers more than eight hours’ worth of protection in full ‘active’ and ‘armed’ mode, and will last for several weeks in standby mode, and is fully rechargeable.

SO HOW DOES IT WORK?

The Alpinestars system automatically arms itself as soon as the sensors detect the rider is seated on the bike and moving at low speed. Once the micro-processor is armed and sensing, it constantly monitors the rider’s movements and the forces experienced every two milliseconds, via sensors on the arms and legs. If the system senses the rider has lost control – if it detects any irregularities in rider movement or external forces acting on the rider – it deploys and releases a cold, pressurised, Nitrogen-based gas mix with a small pyrotechnic charge to fire the airbag from the shoulders, with the bag fully inflated within 50 milliseconds.

Once inflated the airbag offers more than five seconds’ worth of protection before it begins to deflate – the suit features specially engineered expansion chambers that accommodate the bag in its fully inflated state.

Once the bag is fully deflated, the suit returns to its normal state and fit and the airbag is armed again. It can be deployed twice before the gas needs replacing.

IN ACTION

Marc Marquez had the fastest MotoGP crash ever when he lost control of his Repsol Honda RC213V at 209.9mph during the Friday Free Practice 2 session at Mugello last year. Marquez bailed from his bike at some 170mph as he approached the San Donato corner to avoid the fast approaching wall. He escaped with a battered chin, a small fissure to his humorous bone and some soft tissue injuries to his shoulder, remarkable when you consider that both Marquez’s left and right shoulders maxed out the suit’s accelerometers as he rolled.

The data shows the crash lasted for 4.25 seconds, and it took the airbag’s micro-processor just 0.08 seconds to detect the crash, and another 0.05 seconds to deploy the airbag.

IS THE TECHNOLOGY RELIABLE?

Dainese claim their D-Air Racing system reduces energy transferred by impact by 85 per cent compared with traditional composite body armour. And thanks to their use of accelerometers, gyroscopes and GPS, the micro-processor will only deploy the airbag when the needed  – it won’t deploy the airbag at speeds below 30mph or when the dynamics don’t require the extra protection of an airbag. It obviously works as crashtastic Stefan Bradl has yet to break his collarbone despite regularly crashing, and crashing hard.

SO, MUCH DOES THIS TECHNOLOGY COST?

At the moment, the Alpinestars Air tech suit costs £5400 while the Dainese D-Air costs £2400 and although the technology is expensive it will come down once manufacturers embrace the technology. Dainese have already teamed up with Ducati and BMW and the effects have been immediate – the Ducati Multistrada D-air is the world’s first motorcycle with a fully integrated airbag system.

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