Forcite Helmet Systems has been around since 2016, but Co-Founder and CEO Alfred Boyadgis has been testing and developing the brand’s smart helmet concept as far back as 2013. That slow and steady growth helped the Australian startup find its footing in the smart helmet segment, differentiating itself with a chin bar-integrated camera, internal lighting, and audio system to alert riders to potential hazards, traffic updates, and police proximity.
That patience paid off when the Founders Edition MK1 helmet went on sale in 2019. After quickly selling out the first 1,000 units, Forcite opened sales for the 300-unit Pioneer Pack in February, 2021. Most recently, Forcite opened an Equity crowdfunding campaign at the request of long-time brand supporters. Along with funds from Uniseed and Atlas Advisors Australia, the crowdfunding proceeds will help the firm with mass production and global expansion.
With that expansion on the horizon, we sat down with Boyadgis and Forcite Sales Director Dylan Ross to find out how the smart helmet startup plans to become a fully sustainable business on a global scale in the near future.
There are several smart helmet concepts that feature heads-up displays (HUD), why didn’t Forcite adopt that technology with its MK1 helmet?
Alfred Boyadgis: I worked in augmented reality before building optical displays, and that type of tech on a bright day is almost invisible, hard to manufacture, and is quite distracting when going at speed. If you're not a seasoned rider, I think it could be quite dangerous to have a graphical display over the eye.
Over the time that you use the (Forcite Helmet System), you get used to the colors, patterns, and audio, so it becomes second nature. So, you just focus on the road and you know that a particular color means a (certain notification) and then you just enjoy your ride.
Dylan Ross: It’s very passive.
That is a great point. There’s a thin line between notifications and distractions. How does Forcite toe that line?
AB: You have to show that restraint sometimes, especially when you're dealing with ECE-style certification. (ECE) 22.06 is getting even more stringent on these kind of things. You need to have a clear field of vision to get through the standard certification. Retractable displays realistically, if you’re looking at the standard, pretty much states that you shouldn’t have anything in your vision. So, that’s a gray area, but we didn’t want to go down any gray areas.
Because, you know, eventually someone is going to have an accident, and we know hand and heart that it has nothing to do with the electronics.
Speaking of safety regulations, what does Forcite, and other smart helmet manufacturers, have to take into consideration when applying for ECE and DOT certifications?
AB: To be very honest, these standards test for the mechanical safety of the helmet, not the electronics safety. So, we’re actually thinking of what is safe, what is distracting, what cognitive loads do these devices, and in which situations, do they create an unsafe rating?
We’re working with universities in Australia in cognitive science to demystify distraction levels of learner riders with just audio all the way through to VR (virtual reality) displays and actually putting some rigor around how to rate these systems. So, over the next year, we will be looking into the creation of a smart helmet standard that any manufacturer could be able to use.
DR: This is one of those things where the tech is ahead of the legislation. So, we want to start positioning ourselves as thought leaders in that space and drive a lot of the research and practice into ascertaining what is safe and not safe and setting the standard from the get-go.
Along with certification efforts, Forecite has thousands of test riders delivering feedback and suggestions. How has that unique process impacted the evolution of the Forcite helmet design?
DR: We wanted to make sure that we were solving issues that actual motorcyclists have and were conscious of. So, we wanted riders to come into a group, engage in product testing eventually, and say what they like and don’t like as we flesh out the potential features.
AB: When we really drilled into camera systems, the rear-facing camera came up a lot. But, what happens if you’re on a supersport and you’re facing down and the (rear-facing) camera is up at the sky or you have a passenger on the back?
DR: We found that with most riders, it wasn’t solving an issue that most of them had. Capturing the ride for sharing purposes, safety, and having that accountability for insurance was much more important.
Forecite is interested in developing predictive AI software, Computer Vision, and Vehicle-to- everything (V2X) tech. How will these features help motorcyclists on modern roadways?
AB: The helmet is the wearable element of our system, so we will be developing on-bike alerting systems and data-tracking systems that are able to predict what the road is ahead and accurately communicate that to a database. That database will be available to not only anyone with the app but also falls into something like a Tesla or self-driving vehicle.
In the world of the future, there are going to be more and more autonomous, self-driving vehicles out there on the road. Where does that leave motorcyclists riding around? Having this kind of information spread across the entire ecosystem, not only a helmet-wearer, is something central to our business.
So, if you go from Computer Vision, a wearable helmet, something that goes on the bike, the app, a backend service system being able to integrate with smart cities, I think that’s the Forcite network, which is actually the most valuable bit of what we do.
One of the most challenging transitions for a startup is global expansion. What steps is Forcite taking as it approaches this critical point in the brand's history?
DR: We don’t want to shy away from any particular market. At the moment, we have so much backlog demand and there’s a lot that we have to learn as we start rolling these (helmets) out. We are taking a fairly controlled approach.
We’re dabbling with a concept where we can be in stores and sell online at the same time. We can put in interactive kiosks where people can go into a dealership and get that hands-on experience, find the right fit, and talk to someone they trust behind the counter. That’s something we’re exploring in Australia through the backend of this year.
What’s most important for us internationally is making sure that we can give every customer a premium, personal, educational experience with the product. Looking internationally, that’s probably more of a concern than getting into every store in every country.
AB: We’re cautious about entering other markets until we have the infrastructure and we’ve spoken to dealers on how to integrate into the market in a successful way that’s meaningful to each customer base.