Alpinestars has quietly been testing a motorcycle airbag system as early as 2003, utilizing then-GP racer John Hopkins for data logging. Casey Stoner picked up guinea pig duties in 2007, helping glean additional data acquisition and crash dynamics information. The details of the system were recently outlined to the media at Alpinestars's Torrance, California headquarters.
The Alpinestars Tech Air system uses a modular arrangement featuring a central processor unit that fits into the rear hump of racing leathers, and two airbags that rest on the rider's shoulders. Intended to protect the shoulder and clavicle areas, the airbags are triggered when the battery-pack powered CPU has gleaned accelerometer and body position information suggesting a crash is occurring. A nitrogen-based gas mixture gets detonated, and after an inflation time of less than .05 seconds, 5 seconds of protection are available from the charge before the airbags lose pressure, which takes an elapsed time of 25 seconds. The system can offer one more airbag detonation roughly a minute following the first detonation.
Though Tech Air is currently limited for track use (as is Dainese's D-air system), it should only be a matter of time before the technology trickles down into a street application. Alpinestars expects their Tech Air system to become available to consumers in Summer of 2011 at a cost of about $2,500-- a small price to pay for the opportunity to reduce or avoid one of the most common injuries suffered by motorcyclists.
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Photo © Alpinestars; click to enlarge