Shoulders and collarbones can leap for joy as Alpinestars unveiled its new electronically triggered safety airbag system for racers, giving a For Sale date of next summer. While using a similar approach to Dainese's untethered electronic D-Air system in concept, the Alpinestars TechAir uses a patented dual charge, nitrogen-based gas mix placed in the hump that, when triggered, forces air into the airbags inserted into the shoulders. After the initial discharge, the bags stay at full inflation for over 5 seconds, then gradually deflate, allowing for a second discharge in the case of another accident in just 60 seconds.
Update: video and a couple additional photos below.
The entire system is incredibly compact and light, adding just 500 grams to a standard racing suit. The TechAir focuses on what Alpinestars considers the most accident prone areas of the body, and reduces impact on the shoulders and collarbone from 19 kilonewtons as experienced with the "Race Replica" model down to just 2.2 kN with the TechAir, with a variance of + or -1 kN.
The TechAir is a 6 staged system using sensors located in secret positions throughout a suit designed not to trigger unless a series of criteria are all met that meets a kind of mathematical definition of a crash. Here's how it works.
During Stage 1 the sensors placed throughout the race suit record data and then that data is used for a diagnostic check.
The second stage is what is called the "arming algorithm." Basically, the zipper must be fully pulled up, the rider on the bike, the engine running and the rider and bike in motion. Once all of those criteria are met, the TechAir is ready to be "armed." The third stage is for "features," which are actions or things like data or algorithms that are considered a crash as defined by the system. And these "features" can either come from a single sensor, some of the sensors, or all the sensors attempting to spot the requirements for a crash.
Stage 4 is for classifying. Basically, this is when the features reported from the sensors during Stage 3 are telling the TechAir's system whether they think a crash is happening or not. The system then sorts all that information from the sensors and makes a decision if there is a crash or not. At this point, 2 milliseconds have passed from Stage 1.
During the fifth stage, the TechAir runs a post-classifier, a kind of last second buffer that asks the system, "Are you sure? You really think there's a crash, right?"
Once these 5 preliminary stages are met, the TechAir will discharge. A full cycle for triggering the system happens within 8 milliseconds and the bags inflate in 50 milliseconds.
Not only has the company been quietly working on the system since 2003, Alpinestars sponsored MotoGP racers Casey Stoner, Ben Spies, Mihka Kallio and Dani Pedrosa are currently testing the system. Alpinestars has stated that its sponsored racers in several other championships will be phased in to help refine the TechAir throughout the current 2010 season as well. The TechAir will be sold already placed within a slightly modified version of the "Race Replica" suit currently for sale, with minute adjustments made to the shoulders for fitment.
Ben Spies even raced with the system during this year's Quatar opening round of MotoGP. Well, that's what we were told the night before last over several rounds of shochu at the local izakaya down the street from the Torrance, CA headquarters. At least, that's the way we remember it anyway.