Alpinestars Airtech Airbag System

At a media-only event today Alpinestars introduced their long-awaited AirTech airbag technology. Astars started working on electronic, wireless, airbag technology at the beginning of 2000. This project has culminated in the development of a state-of-the-art, fully functional airbag system which provides an active, yet compact, protection system for Alpinestars athletes in top level road racing.

According medical studies of motorcycle accidents, 48% of motorcycle injuries occur to the shoulders or collar bone. As such, Alpinestars has focused their attention on that area. At present the system incorporates two bags covering the rider's shoulders and collar bones. When a crash is predicted, the bags inflate in less than 0.05 seconds which gives the rider in excess of 5 seconds of vital protection. The airbags are inflated using a nitrogen based gas mix. We were given a demonstration of the system in action, and it activates with a loud pop followed by the hiss of the gas charge leaking from the bladders. The airbags are integrated into the lining of the suit and are relatively unobtrusive. This was a key part of the design, as the engineers did not want the airbags' activation to distract the rider or severely limit mobility.

Over the years of testing, a massive amount of real time data has been collected from which highly complex algorithms have been derived to manage the launch control process, with software optimized for both road and racetrack environments. Lead Engineer Colin Ballantyne was willing to divulge that several accelerometers are used in the system, with 7 sensors "spread over the body".

The system's PCU, battery, and gas cartridges are housed within the speed hump, and based on the 6 data ports that were visible on the module, we assume there is one sensor in the PCU, one at each wrist and ankle, and perhaps one at each hip.

A hugely significant step and one crucial for racing use, was Alpinestars' development of the now patented dual charge system. This innovation offers the rider two airbag inflations without needing to reset or recharge the system, allowing them to re-mount after a crash and continue riding, safe in the knowledge that the system will give them the same level of protection if they go down a second time.

Since the 2003 German MotoGP, when John Hopkins became the first Alpinestars rider to use an active data logging system, extensive testing and development has continued. By 2007, when Casey Stoner was using the system, the power of the electronics had improved dramatically allowing the recording of many different physical inputs which helped create a detailed electronic picture of the dynamic forces involved in riding and most importantly, crashing a motorcycle. During the first MotoGP race of this season, a number of riders carried electronic control systems to further test the monitoring and firing sequences.

For the rest of the 2010 racing season, the Alpinestars Electronic Airbag research program will see the phased introduction of systems for Alpinestars riders in the many Championships it supports, before a commercial equivalent is made available for racing and track day applications in June of 2011. The AirTech system is expected to be available in street apparel in 2-3 years.

Alpinestars Airtech Airbag System
The polyurethane-based bladders inflate to a pressure of approximately 15 PSI in just 50 milliseconds. While Alpinestar’s standard body armor transmits around 19 kilonewtons of energy in CE testing (the limit is 35), the AirTech airbags transmit just 2.2 kilonewtons.
John Hopkins plugs in after a practice session so that valuable data may be transferred from his suit's onboard computer to the technician’s laptop. Myriad sensors throughout the suit gather information regarding lean angle, acceleration, body orientation, and even heart rate and body temperature.
The CPU, gas cartridges, batteries, and one sensor are housed within the race suit's speed hump. The entire system is claimed to weigh just 500 grams and is expected to add $2500 to the cost of a suit.