ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR COMPREHENSIVE RIDER PROTECTION
Alpinestars has introduced the current evolution of its Tech-Air electronic, wireless, airbag system into the MotoGP World Championship. This is the only rider airbag system in racing that offers extended protection, covering the shoulders, full back, torso sides and hips with a unique one-piece airbag design.
The result of on-going research and development, since Alpinestars commenced its rider airbag protection project over twelve years ago, sees all Alpinestars MotoGP riders equipped with an airbag that is now eight times greater in volume than the previous generation. This new airbag design, in development for two years, has resulted in a compact, ultra-lightweight and entirely self-contained safety system that offers the most advanced and comprehensive protection possible.
The system features a powerful micro-processor, powered by an internal battery that is connected to an inflator module housed within a compact, shock-proof, casing inside the suit. A one-piece, ergonomically profiled airbag, constructed using a unique 3-D weave technology which has no stitched seams is secured within the leather race suit ensuring excellent fit and comfort for the rider.
While riding, the Tech-Air system monitors the riders movements and the forces experienced, processing data every 2 milliseconds. In the case of a loss of control, the system is capable of making the decision to fire the airbag and have it fully inflated within 50 milliseconds. The speed, sensitivity and reliability of the system has proved to be such that full airbag inflation is consistently well in advance of initial impact, even during low-side crashes.
Tech-Air Airbag System – Technical Specification
- Unique, all-in-one airbag, developed by Alpinestars using a highly advanced 3-D weave. The production process is entirely computer controlled with no human interaction and no stitching processes. The ergonomic body shaping is created with a precision laser cutter and the inflation profile is engineered to create an exact body contour following fit. This ensures protection is maximized with accurate positioning throughout an impact sequence.
- The airbag is designed to optimize protection around the rider’s body with sections allowing specific inflation volumes over each area of the body: shoulders – high volume, back – medium volume, torso sides – high volume, hips – medium volume.
- Alpinestars’ in-house developed micro-processor constantly monitors the rider’s movements while in motion via sensors located on the arms, legs and processor housing within the suit.
- The Tech-Air System features a switch on the master control unit which, when placed to ‘ON’, allows the sensing system to be brought into ‘active’ mode.
- The system automatically moves into ‘armed’ mode when the sensors detect that rider is seated on a motorcycle and moving at low speed. This prevents any chance of the airbag being deployed at times when protection is not required.
- A compact battery pack powers the Tech-Air system and offers over 8 hours duration in full ‘active’ and ‘armed’ mode; i.e. 8 hours riding time. In standby mode, when the system is only ‘active’, the battery will retain charge for over several weeks. Recharging can be carried out through normal mains power using the connector at the top of the master control unit.
- Once the micro-processor is ‘active’ and sensing, it is sampling data from each of the sensors within the suit every 2 milliseconds. In ‘armed’ mode, when the rider is moving at speed on a bike, the micro-processor samples the sensor data for any irregularities in rider movement or external forces acting upon the rider. These irregularities are defined by algorithms which Alpinestars has developed, and control the micro-processor commands.
- If these prediction parameters, in relation to what the algorithms define as a crash, are exceeded, the micro-processor will initiate the inflation of the airbag. The inflation trigger time is around 8 milliseconds. (This is the time taken to process data during the rider’s initial loss of control, ensuring the situation indicated a crash).
- Upon deployment, the inflation system releases a cold, pressurized, Nitrogen-based gas mix with the aid of a small pyrotechnic charge that fully inflates the airbag within 45 milliseconds.
- Typically, the predictive performance of the Alpinestars Tech Air system protects the rider with a fully inflated airbag well in advance of the first impact with the track/road surface, even in low-side accident situations.
- Once inflated, the airbag offers over 5 seconds of full inflation protection to the rider before beginning to deflate. This ensures a prolonged, highly effective impact absorption barrier for both clavicles and shoulders, the full back, torso sides and both hips during any fall the rider may suffer.
- The Tech-Air Race leather suit has specifically engineered expansion zones to accommodate the airbag in its fully inflated state. (The airbag remains completely contained within the leather suit).
- Once deflation commences, the airbag fully discharges, allowing the leather suit to return to its normal fit and feel.
- The Tech-Air system records all data collected in the central processor unit allowing full diagnostic analysis of the rider’s movements and the forces experienced during any given session.
- The battery which powers the micro-processor is installed in the aerodynamic hump on the back of the suit and can be recharged in the same way as a mobile telephone.
- A series of LED’s on the left forearm of the suit informs the rider of the current status of the system and warns of low battery power, any sensor irregularity and the sensing status of the system, i.e. ‘active’ and/or ‘armed’.
Comments on the new Tech-Air Technology:
"The new suit I am using for the 2014 Championship has been re-designed to include the specially developed new airbag system which provides more protection coverage; from the shoulders down to the ribs and even down over the hips. I started using the new system in testing last year at Valencia and the feeling, comfort and flexibility has been improved with the new suit design. Overall I feel it is a clear step forward."
"The new airbag is comfortable and no different in feeling to the last one, even though it is bigger. It is also good that the weight feels the same and there's more protection so I'm happy with the development."
"The technology is impressive and gives me more confidence but, hopefully, I will not have to put it to the test. Alpinestars are always at the forefront when it comes to new technologies and adapting to this new airbag suit has been easy, especially considering the safety benefits it offers."
Alpinestars started working on active airbag safety technology for motorcycling in 2001. Since then, the project has continuously developed to become a state-of-the-art, fully electronically operated and completely wireless airbag system which provides comprehensive body protection for Alpinestars athletes in top level road racing.
Over the years of testing, a massive amount of real time data has been collected from which complex algorithms have been derived to manage the launch control process, with software optimized for both track and road environments.
Following early laboratory proving, John Hopkins became the first Alpinestars rider to use an active data logging system on track at the 2003 German MotoGP and extensive testing and development has continued ever since. By 2007, when Casey Stoner was using the system, the power of the electronics had improved dramatically allowing the recording of various physical inputs which helped create a detailed electronic picture of the dynamic forces involved in riding and most importantly, crashing a motorcycle.
By 2010, Alpinestars riders in MotoGP were equipped with a fully functional Electronic Airbag System, Tech-Air. Incorporating shoulder protection airbags within the leather race suit, the reliability, speed and functionality of the system was clearly demonstrated by its performance in Marc Marquez’s accident at Mugello, during practice for the 2013 Italian Grand Prix. Crashing at over 200 mph, the Tech-Air airbags were fully inflated before Marc’s first impact with the ground and he suffered no serious injury.
As well as the high level of sensitivity and speed of performance offered by Tech-Air, Alpinestars’ patented a unique dual charge system. This innovation offered the rider two airbag inflations without needing to reset or recharge the system.
Continuous research and development of electronics, algorithm performance and airbag design has led to further improvements in performance and protection. In 2013, during post season testing, Alpinestars introduced a completely re-designed airbag offering extensive body protection. Tech-Air now incorporates active protection of not only shoulders but also full back, side torso, ribs and hips.
For the 2014 race season, the Tech-Air electronic airbag program will equip all Alpinestars MotoGP riders with this extensive body protection system which constantly samples electronic data, every 2 milliseconds and is capable of detecting an accident situation and fully deploying its airbag within 50 milliseconds.
Since its inception, the program has gone through many stages of development with the key milestones being:
- 2001; the creation of a functional, airbag system as a proof of concept.
- 2001 onwards; medical and accident statistical research into injury causes and computer simulation of active prevention covering crucial anatomy most susceptible to crash damage.
- 2003; development of the launch control component and data logging capability.
- 2003; the introduction of analysis tools to scrutinize the large amount of real time data acquired by the highly advanced AST (Alpinestars - Advanced Safety Technology) data logging systems.
- 2004 onwards; ongoing development of the airbag system based on test data, rider feedback and continuous refinement of electronics and sensing components.
- 2009 onwards; testing of the full, active, system with MotoGP and WSBK riders, as well as road riders to fine tune the activation parameters of the airbags for both the racetrack and road.
- 2011; market launch of a customer version of Tech-Air using the same technology in Alpinestars MotoGP program.
- 2013; MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez crashes, without injury, in practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello at over 200 mph. Tech-Air detects the loss of control after 0.025 seconds and is fully inflated 0.030 seconds before Marc’s first impact with the ground.
- 2013 – 2014: Current development of Tech-Air airbag system use begins in MotoGP and throughout pre-season tests in February and March 2014 with all Alpinestars MotoGP riders. Now providing extensive body protection, the airbag covers not only the upper body, but also the rider’s full back, chest, sides and hips.