Smart helmet: headstart to success with Source IP

Pictured: innovators and former University of NSW (UNSW) graduates, Julian Chow and Alfred Boyadgis with their smart helmet system the Alpine Forcite EON One.

Entrepreneur and industrial designer Alfred Boyadgis likens his approach to intellectual property (IP) protection to the characteristics of a rabbit.

Like a rabbit, Alfred thinks quickly on his feet. His game advice for aspiring innovators: ‘You can react fast like a rabbit, with minimal [IP] cover and stay ahead of the competition, or you can be like the turtle; well-protected but slow moving, slow to react to market change.’

‘Imagine a rabbit with a turtle shell? You can’t have both. It’s not possible,’ he explained to us.

He believes in selling people your idea and getting them excited about your work. That’s how you generate enthusiasm for your project.

Initially, his strategies sound risky and against the grain of standard IP thinking of keeping your idea a secret. They’re not really. Not when you take into account that Alfred works in the super-connected, fast, competitive, global growth sector of wearable technology.

He let all but one provisional patent lapse

Although Alfred’s IP strategy has included applying for several provisional patents, he has let all but the last one lapse.

It’s a strategy many tech-industry innovators adopt. They know they’ll gain 12-months’ protection over their work with a provisional patent. But they also recognise technology moves so fast that IP protection can quickly become obsolete if their IP approach is not thought through; not inclusive of the latest innovations.

Alfred expands upon this, ‘It’s the law of the jungle [in the wearable technology market]. You may be able to try and copy our ideas [once they’re in the marketplace] but you can’t copy our next step. We aim to stay in front [of our competitors].’

Accessing university research through Source IP

The helmet had its origins as Alfred’s final year project at the University of NSW (UNSW). His prototype was designed initially as a police motorcycle helmet.

Using Source IP, Alfred has re-connected with UNSW to access its existing patents which can help his company bring the new technology to market faster than the university itself might.

Together with two other former UNSW graduates, Julian Chow and George Constantinos, Alfred developed the smart helmet system, Forcite EON one, set to revolutionise the action sports’ industry.

First, in protective sports headwear for snow sports, the Forcite Alpine meets all the safety standards required of a ski helmet. But also features a super-light (less than 70grams) Quad Core ARM Cortex Heterogeneous Multiprocessor 64-bit; one of the smallest and fastest HMPs available uniquely designed by Forcite’s engineers.

For the less tech-savvy, this means the Alpine allows you to film yourself carving -up the powder in real time on an in-built super stabilised HD camera. Then at the bottom of the slopes you can edit and post a highlight reel of your best ski tricks complete with graphical overlays, all in a few seconds.

Getting the helmet market ready

Additionally, the helmet features GPS tracking technology, Bluetooth speakers, advanced sensors to track your lines, audio to stream tracks and even take phone calls -allowing wearers to communicate with friends while on the slopes. It also features impact sensors and an emergency beacon.

Alfred hopes it will be market ready by early 2017 with ambitious plans for expansion into motorcycle, cycling, downhill, motocross, skydiving and emergency services. The group is looking at their own stand-alone wearables, based on (Internet of Things) IoT technology.

In a bid to expedite the Alpine onto shelves, Forcite decided to drop their involvment in the protection component of the helmet, and instead, started conversations with some of the largest head-wear and wearables manufacturers in the world.

Alfred does not want to name the partner groups, but says ‘they’re big’. He says it allows Forcite to concentrate on what it does best: produce and fine tune super-connected, wearable software and hardware, while helmet experts work on meeting protection standards.

Alfred explains that this, as well as expanding tooling costs, was one of the reasons the group closed their Kickstarter campaign late last year, only $50 000 short of reaching their funding target of $200 000.

Kickstarter is an online crowdfunding platform that connects start-up firms with potential investors. Forcite cancelled its campaign in October 2015 after gleaning $150 102 in pledges from 161 backers.

The company pulled out of Kickstarter, in order to iron out manufacturing aspects of the helmet created by Forcite’s new partnerships.

A commercially viable and safe product

However, a few things influenced the trajection of Alfred’s vision. Firstly, he wanted the product to be more commercially viable. Snow sports and wearable-tech industry are both high-end, consumer areas.

Secondly, Alfred was already working on the helmet when Formula One driver Michael Schumacher was left in a coma following a ski accident. The event inspired him to increase his efforts. As he told Fairfax media: ‘Helmets are safety products, but it's important they also have desirability so people will wear them. We want people to stay safe.’

‘Perisher [the ski resort] actually helped first suggest we build a snow helmet because they wanted live streaming for their ski patrols. They were also interested in a rental system so that families could record their holidays,’ he said.

Julian expanded upon this in a later interview. He said part of the impetus to take the helmet down the high-end sports route was because he found skiing to be at times an isolating, solitary sport.

‘I’ve realised that snow sports begins as a very social thing, and as you start to ski or snowboard down the mountain you begin to lose your friends. There’s no form of communication. My friends had giant cameras mounted to their helmets, we had walkie-talkies to contact each other, but it was very hard to operate at the same time. And as you begin to venture out of bounds, it becomes hard for rescue teams to locate you,’ Julian said. ‘We needed to create something that did it all in one, easy-to-use device.’ So that’s what they did.

The first Alpine prototype took 10 months to build. It was aided by the first $100 000 angel investment from the Canberra group CMD-IP consisting of mainly ex-military personnel, in addition to research and development incentives and a minimum viable product grant. This was followed by another $1 million in development over the year with the aid of R&D incentives and government grants lead by former Deutsche Bank angel Robin Yandle. With advisory support from the Upstart Project incubator and mentors such as David Lorenzini founding partner of Google Earth and David Francis Augmented reality specialist and former Daqri advisor.

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