After years of engineering, Alpinestars long-awaited Tech Air Race Vest airbag safety technology is starting to trickle into select retailers in the US. During this year’s Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas, Alpinestars got a chance to talk about its latest technology with its No.1 sponsored rider Marc Marquez (more on that in a following article). The briefing also included a summary of the technology by Alpinestars’ European communications officer, Mr. Jeremy Appleton, which we’ll be covering below.
“Since its development, it’s been through a number of stages like electronic and airbag research, and it is now the only full-body racing airbag system that is completely contained in a leather suit,” Appleton claims.
“It is also the only system that we know absolutely reacts in low-side and high-side situations as soon as the rider’s body becomes unstable,” he continues. “We’re going to look at some data when Marc arrives. He’s a user of the system at the very highest level can give you some of his thoughts and give you a feeling of how important the technology is for him. Marc has been just one of many riders that have helped us with the testing of this technology.”
During the weekend Kenny Roberts Jr. was inducted into the MotoGP Hall of Fame, and ironically, the 2000 World Champ was an early test pilots in terms of electronic research.
“Kenny was one of the riders that helped us particularly in the early days with the electronic research,” Jeremy tells us. “We had leather suits with quite a lot of wiring back then. What we would now consider relatively low power data analysis, which progressively over the years became much, much more powerful,”
“Indeed by about 2006 or 2007 Cosworth were providing us with a data tier which came from their engine management system on the Formula 1 engine. So we were able to assess over 2000 channels of data simultaneously through multiple sensors on the suit. That gave us a very good indication as to what sort of forces and effects were going on with riders as they were racing.”
“So in 2009, we brought the first airbag system to MotoGP. The first functioning, fully independent airbag system, which was a shoulder and upper body protection system. Four years later we began the introduction of the full body airbag that all our riders now use.”
“That provides torso protection completely, from the hips all the way up to the top of the shoulders. It’s full chest, full back. Dual charge as well. We kept that from our ’09 introduction, which means that if a rider crashes and the airbag is deployed, it will give full protection for at least five seconds before it begins to deflate. And then, if the rider is able to recover, and start riding again they have a second charge. So they don’t need to change the airbag. They don’t need to change into another suit. They can literally pick up the motorcycle, start riding again, and the electronic system will recognize that they’re riding and it will be re-arming the system, ready for it to fire again.”
“In terms of performance, we’ve also steadily improved both the algorithm performance and the deployment of the airbag. Right now in a low-side situation, the sensors are sending data to the electronic process every two milliseconds. That data is being processed extremely rapidly. It’s taking us anywhere from eight to 12 milliseconds to detect a loss of control that leads potentially to a serious impact.”
“We’re able to deploy the airbag in no more than 40 milliseconds. So potentially within 50 milliseconds we are deploying to full pressure with a complete body protection system, which in a low-side accident, typically can be 60 to 80 milliseconds. We’ve got the protection in place before the rider hits the ground. As I explained, when we come onto the data that I’ve got, it doesn’t necessarily always need to deploy at the moment of loss of control. This is another important asset to Tech Air.”
“It’s a very dynamic environment. You know what it’s like on a motorcycle, how unpredictable the motions can be,” Appleton ends with. “The system needs to be able to dial out incidents where it looks like it might be an accident, but actually the rider recovers. Or indeed where the upper body during an accident is completely stable. We don’t need to deploy the airbag system if the rider actually isn’t tumbling or isn’t any threat of impact in the upper body.”
But what about the lower body? Alpinestars says its working on that. Stay tuned for a follow-up report featuring candid commentary from the guy who routinely puts the technology to the test: Marc Marquez.