How Far Does the New Skully AR Motorcycle Helmet Rise from the Ashes?
Andrew Wheeler posted on January 15, 2019 |
The infamous Skully AR-1 Helmet. (Image courtesy of Skully Technologies.)
The infamous Skully AR-1 Helmet. (Image courtesy of Skully Technologies.)

The Skully AR-1 helmet is a Kickstarter and startup success from 2014 that ended in abject failure, lawsuits and disappointment for 1,940 Indiegogo backers who paid for a state-of-the-art motorcycle helmet with cool-sounding augmented reality features. Riders were promised a helmet with a video feed that acted like a rear-view mirror and the ability to overlay directions on the front visor without obscuring or obstructing one’s field of vision on the road.

Skully Helmets Inc., as it was then known, was a project helmed by Marcus Weller, former CEO of the fledgling company. Weller helped design the helmet’s software, which was based on the Android platform, to be controlled by voice commands. It included features like music streaming, Bluetooth functionality, and the ability to see backwards using a rear camera feed to a heads-up display (HUD) in the front.

On Indiegogo, Weller raised 1.1 million dollars raised in 2014 (the fastest funding to date at the time) followed by a Series A round of 11 million dollars. With the company’s finances in seemingly great shape, hackers and investors were baffled at the mismanagement and eventual failure to ship product. It turned out, that the original Skully creators decided to blow investors’ money for luxurious trips, cars and many other things not related to shipping their product. 

By 2016, it was clear that something was very wrong at the heart of Skully Helmets Inc.—word got out that only 20-100 units were shipped out to backers. Citing heavy production delays and a failure to raise more capital, the company founders resigned in July 2016 in exchange for a promise that Riverwood Capital and Intel Capital would provide financing to the company and deliver helmets to customers. Intel and Riverwood did not invest in the company, and instead filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in October 2016.

Marcus Weller and his brother Mitchell were subsequently sued for fraudulently using corporate funds for personal use along with their executive assistant Isabelle Faithauer. The company was also sued by their supplier Flextronics for 1 million in unpaid inventory expenses. The Wellers denied the validity of the claims, his executive assistant dropped her version of events and the case was stayed while bankruptcy proceedings took place. Faithauer's claims were granted relief from stay by the bankruptcy court immediately after the filing. Her case was dropped on the merits after over 17 months in discovery. Assets were sold to Skully Technologies, which is run by Ivan and Rafael Contreras who opened operations in Atlanta, Georgia.

Flash forward to January of 2018, and the Skully AR project came back to life as the Fenix AR HUD. After demonstrating a new prototype at CES last year, the new version of Skully also came with a promise to supply every original backer with a finished product.

The Fenix AR HUD

Riders can use the Fenix AR HUD to see behind them with its wide-angle rearview camera, navigation with GPS and see dashboard information like the speedometer. The company recommends walking around and familiarizing oneself with the HUD, and adjusting it as necessary. Riders can adjust the height of the HUD, tilt it slightly forward or backward to adjust the viewing angle and make radial adjustments from side to side so that one can see the entire display with clarity and minimal obfuscation of one’s field-of-view.

Riders can use the Fenix AR HUD to see behind them with its wide-angle rearview camera, navigation with GPS and see dashboard information like the speedometer. The company recommends walking around and familiarizing oneself with the HUD, and adjusting it as necessary. Riders can adjust the height of the HUD, tilt it slightly forward or backward to adjust the viewing angle and make radial adjustments from side to side so that one can see the entire display with clarity and minimal obfuscation of one’s field-of-view. (Image courtesy of Skully Technologies.)
Riders can use the Fenix AR HUD to see behind them with its wide-angle rearview camera, navigation with GPS and see dashboard information like the speedometer. The company recommends walking around and familiarizing oneself with the HUD, and adjusting it as necessary. Riders can adjust the height of the HUD, tilt it slightly forward or backward to adjust the viewing angle and make radial adjustments from side to side so that one can see the entire display with clarity and minimal obfuscation of one’s field-of-view. (Image courtesy of Skully Technologies.)

Fenix AR is controlled by an app for iOS or Android and pairs with Bluetooth 4.0. Voice commands allow users to play music, answer phone calls, check battery life and control navigation.

Fenix AR Specs

MECHANICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Weight:

1650 to 1725 grams (~3lb. 9oz. to 3lb. 13oz.)

Storage Temperature Range:

-20°C to 60°C (-4°F to 140°F)

Operating Temperature Range

-10°C to 45°C (14°F to 113°F)

Vibration Resistance:

4.4g rms 5 Hz to 2000 Hz

Shock / Drop Resistance:

40 g, 15-23 ms, 1⁄2 sine (1m Vertical Drop)

The Skully Fenix uses a 3.7V lithium ion rechargeable battery with a micro-USB 2.0 charging port. To use the app, you need Android version 7.0 or iOS version 8 or higher.

A Brief History of the Crash Helmet
The first motor racing circuit called Brooklands was built in 1907 in Surrey, England. By 1914, Brookland’s medical officer Dr. Eric Gardner noticed a trend: crashes and injuries occurring once every two weeks. Working with local manufacturers, Gardner and company designed the first helmet from shellac and canvas and presented it to the Auto-Cycle Union. Union members rejected the idea of a helmet at first, but then switched gears and made it mandatory for the 1914 Isle of Man TT races. At the 1914 Isle of Mann TT race, riders huffed and puffed about having to wear helmets. However, one rider hit a gate with a glancing blow (a blow with less than full force that falls off to one side) and was saved by the helmet. Later, Gardner opened a letter from an Isle of Mann medical officer who wrote him that there were no “interesting concussion cases” as per usual in 1914. The event that is thought to have popularized the notion of a motorcycle helmet occurred in 1935. Famous Brit T.E. Lawrence was riding on a slender road and crashed because he couldn’t see two boys ahead of him. They were hidden from his field-of-view because of a dip in the road. He made a hard swerve to avoid the children and was thrown over the handlebars and incurred serious head injuries, leaving him in a coma. Lawrence died six days later. An attending neurosurgeon named Hugh Cairns initiated a comprehensive study due to what he saw as an unnecessary loss of life by motorcyclists due to serious head injuries.

Bottom Line

There’s no reason in the world for anyone to trust Skully Technologies, but if they follow through on their promise to fill every back order, then maybe interested riders could opt to give them a chance. With the price tag at USD 1800, however, that likely means most bikers are out. There’s already heated debate between riders who enjoy the analog feel of bikes and don’t want high tech to encroach. But there are others who enjoy the idea of having more robust safety features and the ability to access dashboard tech found often in modern cars.

It’s hard to say what will happen with the resurrected company. As far as business models go, it seems as though filling back orders for free might not be the most efficient business model, even though it is the right thing to do. Skully Technologies is counting on the infamy of previous failure and deception to succeed as a rebooted version of an expensive product paid for and never delivered.



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