• BMW Introduces Star Wars Tech to the Motorcycle Sector with Lasers and Heads-Up Display

As a kid that grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, I have a full appreciation of how frequently science fiction becomes science fact. Part of this is because technology has finally caught up to imagination, to a certain point, and part of it is because the heavy, science-fiction hitters such as Lucas, Spielberg and Roddenberry took steps to create “plausible” science fiction for us, the fan base. I, personally, was weaned on Star Wars and Star Trek, and so you can imagine my delight at seeing real-world devices spring from these fictitious stories.

Today, I would like to talk about two such technologies being experimented with by our friends at the Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW Motorrad, and that will be trotted out at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, this week. Neither are particularly new, and they have been experimented with in the automotive sector, but I believe this is the first time I have seen them on a two-wheeled vehicle. Best of all, they are both safety-related items, and let’s face it; anything that increases rider safety is good, m’kay?

Continue reading for my take on the BMW concepts.

  • BMW Introduces Star Wars Tech to the Motorcycle Sector with Lasers and Heads-Up Display
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Laser Headlights

BMW Introduces Star Wars Tech to the Motorcycle Sector with Lasers and Heads-Up Display
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First up is Beemer’s laser headlight technology. Already in use on the BMW 7 Series and i8, the factory is experimenting with the feasibility of using it on motorcycles, beginning with the K 1600 GTL concept bike.

The laser projector produces a pure white light, and shoots it down the road to illuminate objects up to 600 meters away. To be honest, I have to wonder if legalities will play a part in the development of these laser lights, because with ranges like that I can’t help but think of aircraft landing lights, and I’m here to tell you those things are bright! At least they are pure-white beams, with none of that irritating blue so common nowadays, which is good. The human eye does not react to blue light, and the pupil aperture doesn’t close down in response — this is why oncoming blue headlights are so blinding, painful and dangerous if you ask me. White light allows the eye to adjust, thereby preventing the pain and temporary blindness associated with the blue, so perhaps this great range and brightness won’t cause a blind cage driver to drift into your lane.

All that aside, I am in favor of anything that increases the usable visibility to the rider, and rider’s visibility to the rest of the world. BMW admits that the technology is still a bit pricey for use on production motorcycles, but it also points out that as the technology becomes more ubiquitous in the automotive sector, prices will moderate and increase viability for the motorcycle sector.

One particularly nice attribute with the laser headlight is durability. Granted, it’s a new use for an existing technology, but the indications so far suggest laser lights will be more durable than LED lights, and far tougher than filament-type, incandescent lights. As one who regularly rattles the innards loose in my old sealed-beam headlight, I can fully appreciate, and am willing to pay for, something with a little more staying power. Make mine the model that goes pew-pew when I turn ’em on, please.

Heads-Up Display

BMW Introduces Star Wars Tech to the Motorcycle Sector with Lasers and Heads-Up Display
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Next is a technology BMW introduced us to back in 2003 as an option for its automobile division. Of course, I am referring to its heads-up display. As BMW rightfully points out, it can take but a momentary lapse of attention for things to go sideways when you are on two wheels, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Toward that end, BMW presents this feature as a safety device that allows the rider to gain information about his or her surrounds, observe data from the on-board instrumentation and even keep track of the rest of the pack, even if they’re behind you. A forward-looking camera watches ahead, while a rear-looking camera serves as a rear-view mirror on steroids. The video is fed through the ocular device positioned in front of the rider’s right eye — good news for most of us — but I wonder about the small slice of the world’s population that is left-eye dominant. If you don’t think that’s a problem, go watch “Firebirds” with Tommy Lee Jones and Nicolas Cage and get back to me.

The factory presents the HUD package installed in a full-face / modular helmet, but state that the devices are made to fit with nearly any full helmet without any concurrent loss in comfort or fitment, so maybe it will consider folks with eye-dominance disabilities before release so as to avoid precluding sales to such folks. Most people don’t realize they are left-eye dominant until they try to use such a device, so I would recommend that you test the system before buying in.

One of the neat things with the HUD involves the cameras themselves. In addition to providing real-time info to the rider, it can also record footage, so with it you have a built-in crash recorder that can protect you in court in the case of a contentious wreck. Note: insurance companies, and their lawyers, consider every wreck to be contentious, so it’s best to have clear, unbiased video of the entire event. Not only that, but the system replaces GoPro cameras and the like with an even more functional version, so if you are into posting YouTube videos of your adventures, the BMW HUD is a win-win for you.

What’s Next

2016 BMW R 1200 GS / R 1200 GS Adventure
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Not content to simply augment the wearer of each individual helmet, BMW is experimenting with a vehicle-to-vehicle communications system to allow all such devices within a pack to share data and increase the safety of the body entire, not just each individual rider. The factory is a little vague on this point. It seems that it is still discovering all the potential uses, and how best to incorporate them, so this technology is still something of a wrapped gift — you can shake it and guess at it, but you won’t know what all you got until you open it.

We won’t have long to wait, it looks like “Christmas” will be sometime in 2017, or so. I, for one, can’t wait.

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