The motorcycle jacket I'm wearing looks completely normal from the outside.
But it's hiding a neat safety feature inside. The D-air system by Italian company Dainese detects when a crash is about to happen and inflates an airbag inside the jacket. It covers my torso, shoulders and back to protect against injury. (Watch the video on this page to see how it feels.)
It's the same technology that's being used by some downhill skiers to protect against injury during the Winter Olympics. Called D-air Ski, the version for athletes is integrated into a protective back plate that fits underneath a spandex ski suit, rather than in a motorcycle jacket.
Using three accelerometers and three gyroscopes, the sensors communicate with GPS at a rate of 1,000 times per second to detect an imminent crash.
The secret sauce is the algorithm that decides when a crash is about to happen. But it needed to be fine-tuned between motorcycle riding and skiing because of the different dynamics.
"When you have a crash in motorcycling, it's pretty clear," Dainese Executive Vice President Roberto Sadowsky explains as he demonstrates the technology at the company's showroom in San Francisco.
In downhill skiing you can be in the air for an extended period of time, but that's considered a jump, not a crash. "It's a big secret how our algorithm is developed but it has proven to work pretty much 100 percent," he says.
The airbag deploys in 45 milliseconds and adds around 800 grams, or 1.7 pounds, of extra weight. It's already being used by Alpine Ski World Cup racers from Austria, Italy, Canada and the US, and Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn.
"It's really a safety support tool," says Sadowsky. "It's something that [skiers] adopt naturally because they want to be protected."
D-air Ski is not available for sale to the public, but the motorcycle version and jacket costs around $1,700. Airbags are single-use and once deployed, need to be replaced. They cost $250 each.
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