Skully’s AR helmet is back! And burned crowdfunders won’t be burned after all

Pretty much anyone who has put on a motorcycle helmet and has any interest in tech is familiar with the Skully helmet saga.

Quick refresher: The original Skully smart helmet project first launched in 2013, went on to fame and fortune as a record-breaking crowd-funding project, and then crashed and burned in 2016 amid allegations of corporate malfeasance, employee mistreatment and other bad news just as it seemed the super-techie Skully AR-1 wonder helmets were about to go into full production. Indeed, DT was planning on receiving a test sample just days before the venture imploded.

Thousands of riders who ponied up $1,500 for the stylish high-tech hats with the built-in rear camera and Head Up Display (HUD) were left that much poorer – and with no swanky new helmets. Only a handful were ever produced, and with no support going forward, they are pretty much destined to become expensive collector items with non-updateable (or fixable) tech inside. Sad deal.

There was no shortage of curious show-goers ready to take a closer look.

But in the wake of the Skully disaster, Ivan Contreras, the busy CEO of boutique motorcycle brand GasGas, best known for their super-capable and super-specialized trials bikes (they offer a line of “regular” dirt bikes as well), swooped in and snapped up the remnants of Skully and has now pushed the project forward, rebranding the venture as Skully Technologies. The reborn Skully AR-1 helmet, at present, is now called the Skully Fenix AR.

Contreras and members of his experienced team had a small but noticeable presence at CES 2018 and had reworked – and working – pre-production helmets on hand for attendees to check out. They even had a spiffy (but static) Triumph Daytona to climb aboard to “test ride” the helmet in their booth. There was no shortage of curious show-goers ready to take a closer look.

The “new” Skully Fenix AR helmets feature pretty much all the tech from the original version, including the centerpiece 180-degree rear-view camera, a small full-time HUD display under the right eye, and the typical spread of expected smart helmet conveniences: music playback, phone ops, navigation and so on.

The difference now is that the helmet works more closely with your smartphone (and a dedicated app) for some of the computing power, while things like the rear camera and HUD will still work by themselves if you feel like leaving the handset at home. The system will run for four hours on a charge and the helmet recharges using micro-USB, so refilling the battery with a portable charger on the fly is a simple solution for longer rides.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The HUD projection system in the helmet looks almost impossibly small, especially considering the size of the projector screen in the only other helmet HUD available at this time, the outboard NUVIZ HUD, which we gave high marks in a thorough review. But because the Skully HUD is closer to the eye than the NUVIZ, it doesn’t need to be as large, or semi-transparent, so the size of the screen module can be decreased. Like the NUVIZ, the Skully HUD is (just) below the rider’s sightline at all times, and is easily adjustable to get the best image possible.

The helmets Skully Technologies had on display at CES were working prototypes, sans the smartphone ops, and the image in the HUD was clear while being unobtrusive. It will take a bit of time for riders to get used to seeing “behind themselves” at a glance, but like my experience with the NUVIZ, I suspect that once the novelty of having a tiny TV in your helmet wears off, the valuable utility of the tech will become readily apparent.

The whole idea of the system, as carried over from the original project, is to give riders a real-time 360-degree situational view of the world around them without having to rely on mirrors and over-the-shoulder looks, which take a rider’s eyes off the road ahead, if only for a fraction of a second.

Among safety-minded riders, there’s no mystery as to why the see-it-all Skully helmet was so compelling.

But as any rider can tell you, at speed, those fractions of a second translate into a considerable amount of distance traveled with no forward vision – one of the primary hazards of riding a motorcycle (or piloting any vehicle). At 88 feet second at 60mph, even a fraction of a second checking mirrors, lane space, your speedo, GPS and so on can mean the difference between avoiding an impact or being involved in one. Like the old saw says: It’s not the speed that kills you, it’s the sudden stops. Among safety-minded riders, there’s no mystery as to why the see-it-all Skully helmet was so compelling.

It also helped that the helmet itself was smartly designed and good looking. Marketing director Diane Maier, who took the time to let DT try out the helmet at the Skully booth, said that the production helmets will look just like the stylish units we saw at CES. Price will be $1,899 for the “regular” version of the helmet, and there will also be a luxe carbon-fiber edition as well, although the price there has not been set as of yet. We expect it to be… expensive. Maier said they are hoping to have the hats ready for sale this summer. There will also be a white color choice, eventually.

But wait, there’s more

One very notable facet of the “new” Skully Technologies company is their “Make It Right” pledge. Simple enough: If you paid for a Skully helmet in the original Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, great news: The new Skully team will be honoring those pledges and will ship the first helmets to those supporters – even though they are under zero obligation to do so. We’re talking about something like 2,000 helmets at up to $1,500 a pop. That’s a nearly $3 million promise.

Skully Technologies say they have the database of those who pledged and paid, so be sure to contact them if you’re in that group.

We can’t think of any better way a company could show goodwill towards their customers than taking an action like this. They certainly didn’t have to do it by any stretch, but when you deal with a group with loyalties as strong as those in the motorcycling community, we can’t think of a smarter move to reboot a smart helmet company than that one.

We plan to have a Skully Fenix AR helmet in for review once production begins.