Dainese Inflatable Vest

Poppin' Fresh

You'd expect a sex crazed Italian riding gear manufacturer to put their tall mini-skirted go-go girls to work at a major show like this year's Intermot 2000.

Past Dainese catwalk performances have always been a source of inspiration for male visitors. Well, not this time. At the center of their stand there were no leggy models strutting their stuff, but a boring male mannequin seated on a bike while wearing what appeared initially to be a rather pedestrian, run-of-the-mill, riding vest. What's going on here?

At the center of their stand there were no leggy models strutting their stuff...What's going on here?

Well, that innocent-looking vest might represent the biggest advancement in riding safety since leather jackets and full face helmets.

A huge video screen left little room for imagination. As an ill-fated test dummy crashed violently into a static car, a set of three impressive-looking air bags inflated from within the riding vest and formed a huge air cushion around the dummy's upper body and helmet. And it all happened within 30 milliseconds... well before the rider had parted ways with the machine.

The idea of inflatable active protection for the rider is not exactly new. There already is a product on sale, but it relies on inflatable tubes, which are much slower to react and forms a smaller and less protective cushion.

The Dainese differs due to the use of full-sized air bags. Possessing totally different characteristics than inflatable tubes, the system promises to set a new standard in impact absorption.  "Our main goal was to protect first against life treating injuries that occur mainly in the head, spine and internal organs..." - Davidson

Three separate airbags inflate in a crash. The main bag is located in the back and has an intricate shape that not only protects the back itself but projects also onto the back and sides of the helmet. Two smaller and simpler bags deploy from the front of the vest. The area in front of the helmet has been left deliberately unobstructed to avoid shutting the rider's field of view in the unlikely case of unwanted bag inflation.

Crucial to the product's effectiveness, however, is the system's reaction time. There is no point in having a tent-sized air cushion if it deploys after the rider has left dents on the t-boned car.

Key to the amazingly fast bag filling are three gas generators filled with nitrogen with electronic actuated valves that release their charge to the bags through high flow capacity tubes. Triggering of the system is by way of electronic transmitter and receiver. The transmitter is mounted on the front fork and is triggered by a deceleration bigger than 10 G's, something that occurs only in the case of the bike hitting another sizable object. This unit sends a radio signal to the receiver located in the vest that opens the gas generator valves. No physical connection between the rider and the machine exists; a stark contrast with previous patents that relied on a cord activated trigger that pulled the valves open only after the rider was separated from the bike.

The birth of the project happened (of all places) within the walls of an art academy. Haim Parnass, an Israeli industrial design student decided to tackle a rider's protection device as his BA degree project. Without many resources, the promising idea remained in the form of sketches and non-functioning models. That was until Jacob Allaluf, an industrial entrepreneur who was researching the same sort of protection system, met Haim.

The pair turned the idea into a working product, but serious R&D had to wait for the arrival of a larger investment. This happened when the small company was bought by a large Israeli technologies holdings company possessing sufficient resources to implement detailed research and development.

Within a year, the new Merhav-AAP company had a working system incorporating proven technologies taken from automobile airbag systems. The next step was to offer the design to serious riding gear manufacturers.

Lino Dainese, Dainese's chairman, was impressed enough with what he saw to enlist his company to finalize development.

Quite a lot of work had yet to be done, mainly in the area of special stitching that had to be strong enough to withstand normal every day abuse yet quickly give way when needed.

Dainese's efforts will soon yield an initial batch of 2000 vests to be used for evaluation purpose.

Though it seems the project is moving right along, don't pull out your pocket book just yet. Project officials concede there are many issues which still need to be addressed.

For example, Doctor Max Davidson, Merhav-AAP's general manager acknowledges the fact that the current system doesn't yet cover all possible accident scenarios.

"Our main goal was to protect first against life treating injuries that occur mainly in the head, spine and internal organs," Davidson said. "Leg protection might come later on." Davidson also notes the present the system is triggered mainly by head on collisions, and doesn't address low sides or high sides.

"Car versus bike collisions are still big killers in urban areas," Davidson said. "But we are working on triggering the airbags by other accidents."

Davidson noted, for example, a company technician is investigating the use of a lean angle meter to activate the system the case of a slide.

Another issue is that the system requires the installation of the deceleration measuring unit in the bike's fork. Fortunately, Ducati already has signed an agreement with Dainese to install at the factory the small electronic box in high-end models. Similar agreements could soon be reached at Aprilia and even some Japanese manufacturers.

  Another stumbling block is that the system poses a considerable price and weight penalty. Current estimates are a $500 increase in the price of an airbag equipped jacket and some three pounds of added weight. These figures could drop with further development and high volume production, however.

As designers tackle these issues, Dainese plans to incorporate the system not only in protective vests but also in riding jackets and even full leathers.

We here at MO are interested in seeing where this project ultimately leads. Needless to say, an active restraint system could achieve unprecedented levels of motorcycle safety.

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