Sydney startup Forcite brings smart tech for helmets to extreme sports around the world
Everyone wants to share their experiences, especially when those experiences are snowboarding down the alps in Switzerland or reaching high speeds on a motorcycle. It’s likely that you see these amateur or elite sports athletes wearing action cameras bolted onto their helmets to capture in high definition their heart stopping and exhilarating moments.
The trend of people sharing their experiences has grown by 50 percent over the last year, with video and online streaming to social media becoming popular among sporting enthusiasts. Being able to communicate these experiences to friends is all based around recording what happens from the head, which gives the audience the best possible viewpoint.
The problem with those bolted on devices is that they can increase the rotational acceleration of the helmet, which can lead to severe neck injury or, in the more extreme cases, death. A near death experience befell well-known Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher when he was severely injured during a skiing crash several years ago. The style of incident was based around the installation of an action camera, which damaged the integrity of the helmet. The GoPro camera, which was mounted onto the helmet, was considered as a major cause for the source of the injuries that Schumacher sustained to his brain. The GoPro is not designed to withstand significant impact and broke apart when Schumacher fell.
This is where the need for integrated smart helmet systems comes from and devices have since been made that allow users to get all the benefits from video recording with the safety of a helmet. Safe, integrated systems that don’t break off, catch or explode on impact have been designed to enhance the overall experience and are now tailored suited especially for helmets and impact sports.
Creators of Forcite Helmet Systems Alfred Boyadgis and Julian Chow made waves on Kickstarter last year, becoming the largest grossing snow sports product, raising $150,000 in two and a half weeks. However, halfway through their campaign the Sydney team were approached by large helmet manufacturers and decided to pull out of Kickstarter and pivot the company towards building better hardware and software.
Forcite now builds small modular computing systems tailored for wearable technology such as helmets.
“In the first instance we’ve integrated our technology into snow sports, cycling, motor cycling, mining and civil defence and this allows helmets to come into the twenty first century by adding HD video, broadcasting, live streaming, communication set and also tracking and performance analytics to an otherwise dead object,” said Boyadgis. “This is where the trend of kind of wearable technology is going, especially for helmets.”
Forcite gives users more battery life with eight hours of video plus more memory. Boyadgis explained that the technology is aimed at athletes who want to record everything they do in an automated sense to share it with their friends and create viewing channels.
These athletes don’t want to have the clutter or danger of having these technology devices click off or add weight to the helmet. For this application Forcite is a performance enhancing wearable technology.
The technology also leads into virtual reality, streaming in 360 degree video. Forcite has built a production system that can click in and out of a helmet, so if the helmet is damaged in any way users have the ability to remove the most expensive component, which is the computer. The computer can be upgraded and switched into a different style of helmet, which is a key differentiator in the world of smart helmet technology.
Inside the helmet Forcite has created a quad call computing system that weighs around 40 grams, with powerful image processing. The system clicks into the helmet much like a rifle magazine and fits into a connector, which connects to a super high resolution camera, similar to the GoPro Hero Black series. The system allows for communication so users can talk to up to three people while they’re on the slopes or alternatively they can talk over a 4G network to as many people they like. Forcite gives users the ability to live stream their footage from anywhere in the world. There is also an inbuilt tracking system which shows elevation and speed, giving users the ability to set markets in that tracking so they can return to their video and find key action shots.
“You put it on, simply press the record button and it will do all the tracking, recording and everything for you. If you lose your friend you can then find them, you also have a little on board voice named Vicky which you can ask questions to if you want about the weather,” explained Boyadgis.
The few companies competing in the smart helmet space include high tech Skully helmets, that integrate a rear facing camera to a motorcycle helmet and also DAQRI, a smart helmet that provides safety and efficiency for workers on the job. These smart helmets are hard built, which means if the product is damaged there is no way of upgrading or changing the system. The price points are also quite high, ranging from anywhere between US$1,400 to US$2,000. Boyadgis explained that Forcite fits into the super lightweight and versatile category of helmets with a completely removable, upgradeable and modular system where users can mix and match functions.
“You can add different apps and join in things like tracking apps and things you can add to the helmet. So that’s essentially what we are doing and how our system is designed. It’s quite versatile in the way that it’s designed whereas the other helmets are really tailor made for those particular verticals,” said Boyadgis.
Forcite targets a whole range of people from around 18-35 years old who use a lot of social media to share their footage. They’re the typical Youtube user and sports enthusiast or athlete. A specially designed product called Forcite Alpine is an integrated system for snow sports, because action camera footage is accelerating the most in that particular vertical.
“In the first instance we’ll be targeting the snow sports industry and then we’ll be moving on to cycling and then motor cycling,” said Boyadgis.
The Forcite team want their products to be affordable for the average amateur athlete. Looking at the price point of helmets the premium product sits around $400 in Australia, while an iPad costs around $600. Essentially integrating a computer system into the product, Forcite look to keep the price range inbetween the premium helmet and iPad. Each product, computer and helmet can be sold separately, and with the integration of both consumers are looking at spending around $649 and $799 retail.
Forcite was born out of Boyadgis’ Industrial Design degree in UNSW. During the UNSW Innovations Student Entrepreneur Development Initiative, Forcite registered as a company and created a team who worked on the first prototype of a smart helmet for snow sports. Since uni the team have expanded their products into the US market, setting up an office in San Francisco. Forcite is also looking at setting up another office in Europe as motorcycling and snow sports are extremely popular thanks to the Alps and long, winding European roads.
“There’s a lot of helmet brands over there that are very interested in our technology so we’ll be sending one there too. So we really want to be a global company with an Australian R&D base,” said Boyadgis.
The team will be raising a Series A investment round in the middle of the year, which they hope will make Forcite a household name for smart helmets.
Image: Alfred Boyadgis and Julian Chow