Building the world's first mass produced smart motorcycle helmet
Hi my name is Joseph Azar and I was the Chief Technology Officer at Forcite Helmets for 5 years since October 2018, I helped create and launch the world's first ECE certified mass produced smart motorcycle helmet. I took the product from a napkin idea to reality and helped grow the company to the size it's at now.
One of the products that I'm proud of the most in my tech career of 23 years, is probably the Forcite Helmet which is designed, developed and created right here in Sydney, Australia.
I was the Forcite Helmets' CTO for exactly 5 years and currently one of the shareholders, I have to admit, it was the the most fun I've had working on a tech product, and the reason for that is the fact that I was able to merge between my passion for technology and that of motorcycles.
To give you an idea of what it does without going into too much details and infringe on Intellectual Property: This is the first ECE certified, mass produced smart motorcycle helmet in the world. When I say first, it is the first. There's definitely a lot of smart motorcycle helmets out there that claim to be the first, but if you look at their history, their market footprint and delivered products, none of them were able to actually mass produce it, none of them actually sold to customers and none of them managed to get the following we have.
On the other hand, Forcite Helmets sold over 5000 units, in Australia, United States and Europe.
It has a built-in 1080p camera located in the chin front, dual Bluetooth chip, 2 speakers, one on each side, a patented LED array on the nose guard that's used to give you visual signals while navigating coupled with audio queues for better results. A 1400mAh battery that lasts 3 to 8 hours depending on how you use it. You can listen to music, record video and get guided navigation instructions all with 1 single chargeable device. It can also tell you where the police is! Which was a massive selling point!
That's just the tech, now the helmet itself is made of carbon fiber, so weight is not even an issue. It comes with a drop down visor for the Australian version, premium padding and it's probably the only smart helmet in the world that's premium in all sense of the word! We worked hard on the finishing, making sure it looks as good as it works, and I can't boast enough about the packaging, which looked and felt premium from the get-go.
It's not always easy being part of a start-up, especially one that was creating, inventing, producing, designing something that hasn't been done before. We worked through a pandemic, bush fires, chip shortages, heat waves and so many things that would've discouraged most start-ups but in the end we were able to pull it off and with flying colors.
I'm no longer working with Forcite, because I decided that I want to pursue my own professional stream and launched my own company, as you can tell by the name of the blog you're on.
To list a few of the technology stacks we built:
3 Firmware platforms
One for each component of the helmet and handle-bar controller, those were all designed, developed and maintained in-house. They are all proprietary technologies that I personally developed. I had to work with technologies that were so new to me, but I enjoyed the challenge.
The first platform was ARM or Advanced RISC Machines, which was such an amazing platform to work with. The reason we went with this architecture was so that everything is kept separate and we can OTA (Over-The-Air) update them separately.
I admit that OTA took such a long time to develop, because we had a small team and not enough firmware engineers, mainly just me. So I had to find time to work on each platform as much as I can to get the product over the line. I worked long hours and covid was a massive boost to the development pipeline because we had nothing else to do but work. So I finished all 3 platforms during covid and managed to deliver a product that worked perfectly, not to mention it had its own flaws and I come from a software background, had no previous experience working with hardware so I had to ramp up my knowledge in such a short period of time, I didn't think it was possible.
The second platform was the NRF52. One of the best platforms out there.When it comes to assessing what architecture to go with or which platform to choose for your products, there are a few things to consider:
When it comes to building a hardware tech product, documentation comes at the top of the list. Without having clear documentation of how to do things with your chip, it could take you for ever to figure things out on your own, or would need to hire someone who has experience with that platform and firmware engineers are not common and they charge a hefty sum.
What can the chip do? What power consumption it draws? How do you update it? How do you debug it? These are only a few questions to ask yourself when choosing your chips. Hardware products are not easily updatable as software is, you have to carefully choose your chips and even at times over-engineer them and include features that you may not use from the start but you have to think about the future and what would you want to use a year from launching your product.
You have to ask yourself, are there enough firmware engineers for the chip that I'm selecting for my product? How much are the average salaries for such engineers? The alternative would be to choose to outsource your product. It all depends on your risk factor. Is my business dependent on the hardware or is it complimentary? Because what you need to figure out is, what does it cost me to increase the features when it comes to firmware capability. If outsourcing is cheaper, I would definitely go with that option, but in most cases it's not.You also have to think about who is going to manage those engineers? is it someone who has experience in firmware? are they able to manage them effectively? Is that person you?
How much do these chips cost? what are the Minimum Order Quantities (MOQ)? This will come into play when you start shipping your products and ordering chips to manufacture them. How do you make these decisions? well, you need someone with experience to make those decisions for you and explore the market. If they are well connected, it would help.
2 Native mobile apps:
For android and iOS, also designed and developed in-house. Most companies think cross-platform when it comes to mobile development, but this all depends on the speed of your applications and whether they have graphical rendering like maps or animations. Most cross-platform application programming tools fall short sometimes when it comes to Bluetooth communication or map rendering and our app was heavy on both. It had to communicate with multiple devices at the same time and communication protocols that we developed ourselves which was pretty fun to do.
Micro services back-end:
That handled the different communication happening between the moving parts of the infrastructure. I opted in to Microsoft Azure which was my go-to cloud platform. The reason for that is the fact that I've been using Microsoft products for as long as I can remember and it was the easiest choice.
It did help getting access to the Microsoft for startups Hub because of our innovative product, which gave us a fairly large amount of credits for everything Azure and Cloud, so we were covered for a few years which meant no cost of running our cloud platform.