People keep falling off motorbikes, it seems, no matter how many times we tell them not to. So since the early 2000s, many companies have been working to get airbag technology into the bike world. Honda, for example, started work on motorcycle-mounted airbags back in 1990, Spidi had an airbag jacket on the market as early as 2004 that would deploy via a tethered ripcord, and this fluoro orange monstrosity was promising to turn crashed bikers into big, bouncy balls that would roll down the road (and hopefully not off a cliff) by 2012.
Dainese and Alpinestars, among others, now offer well-refined upper body airbag protection that doesn’t require you to tether yourself to your bike, instead deciding when to deploy using sensors built into the jackets and vests. But while the most serious injuries are often in the upper body, the most common are in the legs. And it’s only now that we’re starting to hear about airbag-equipped motorcycle pants.
It seems there are at least two sets in development. Airbag Inside Sweden AB has been working on a set of airbag-equipped jeans, for which they’ve built a working prototype using a tether-deploy system. The company is working with researchers from Uppsala University towards a sensor-enabled system, but you can see it in action in the short video below, in which it appears the CEO falls around on the floor in an amusing attempt to demonstrate their effectiveness.
Motorcycle airbag jeans – Prototype 1.0 [airbagjeans.com]
To be fair, there’s another video where he speaks lucidly without falling over at all, telling us the company plans to market them in the US and Europe in a range of styles under the name Mo’Cycle, but it’s waiting until it’s got 1,000 email addresses on its list before it launches a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to get them into production. You can get on that list at airbagjeans.com to get yourself a possible crack at the earliest bird deals.
The other set, brought to attention by Asphalt & Rubber, is by France’s CX Air Dynamics. They’re a set of tether-actuated airbag overpants you can zip on over your street clothes for commuting or touring. As with the Mo’Cycle jeans above, the CX overpants require you to carry around a gas canister the size of a small hairspray bottle. The Mo’Cycles simply dangle it outside the pants, where the CX team puts it in a pocket on the front of your thigh. Neither look particularly comfortable, but at least the CX one can make people think you’re happy to see them.
Where Mo’Cycle is playing a waiting game, CX is off to the races, and has launched a campaign on French crowdfunding site Kiss Kiss Bank Bank. Here you can currently get a 25 percent early bird discount on the €500 (US$612) retail price, making them €375 (US$459), with deliveries promised for March 2021. There are only three sizes (XS/S, M/L and XL/XXL), but the waist is Velcro so there’s some adjustment there. Here’s the video – you may want to turn on subtitles if your French, like mine, is un petit peu merde.
CX Air Dynamics – le 1er surpantalon airbag pour motard·e·s sur KissKissBankBank
It’ll be interesting to see how well they do their two jobs. One tends to think these inflatable pants will acquit themselves well in gentler incidents, turning the usual bumps and bruises of a slow speed drop into something you can laugh off. Perhaps they’ll save some broken bones, and that’s always a win.
Their other job, though, is being comfortable to ride around in. And since these large airbag cells are very, very airproof, they may well end up being on the sweaty side in warmer weather. Not to mention the fact they literally chain you to your bike. Another thing to slot into your routine before the gloves go on, and an opportunity to end up with an embarrassing amount of junk in your trunk if you hop off in a rush and forget to unclip yourself.
It’s a great idea, though, and we look forward to seeing things develop to the point where bikers can blow up into a full Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man upon crashing. Perhaps even just as a manually-triggered threat display that can make us look scarier in traffic. I’m just glad somebody seems to have got it working; I’ve been furiously blowing gas into motorcycle pants for many years with no apparent safety benefits.
Small, slick French camper van is the bivy of van life
The term “bivy” (or bivouac) immediately inspires images of very basic camping, possibly with no shelter at all, possibly with a very compact, narrow shelter for one. French company Bivy Life lives up to that image by creating a small, efficient “mobile base camp” that’s much simpler than other camper vans and motorhomes out there. With a little bit of sliding, folding and swinging ingenuity, it manages to sleep a family of three below the factory van roof while providing a complete kitchen, lounge, toilet and storage.
Bivy Life keeps it local, opting for a French van in the form of Peugeot’s midsize van, the Expert. The conversion shop works with both the 496-cm (195-cm) standard and 531-cm (209-in) long Expert models.
In coming up with a floor plan for its Mobile Base Camp van, Bivy Life veers well off the road taken by other midsize van converters. It doesn’t bother with automotive rear seats, instead swinging camper seating against the driver-side wall in the form of an L-shaped sofa. It puts the kitchen across the aisle toward the rear of the van, keeping a central aisle open for storing luggage and gear.
To convert the sofa to sleeping configuration, one simply slides and folds out the two individual bench seats and corresponding cushions to create a bed that fills out the space between the kitchen and driver-side wall. The bed looks quite narrow down at the foot but widens out near the head via the “L” extension, providing a bit more room for arms and shoulders.
Buyers can opt for the basic two-sleeper, but couples with a child can upgrade to a creative three-sleeper. Usually if you want to fit more than two people in a small or midsize camper van, you’d be looking at a pop-up sleeper roof, but Bivy Life avoids this common solution to save on expense and maintain a solid-walled interior without the fabric walls of a pop-top.
Instead, Bivy Life lifts a transverse bed over top the foot of the main double bed. The swivel dining table serves as a platform to bridge the kitchen counter with the driver-side shelf. Ropes secured to hooks on the ceiling support the tabletop, and the whole bed platform gets topped with a folding foam sleeping pad that stores on the shelf during the day. Bivy Life says that the 160-cm (63-in)-long bed is suitable for children up to around 12 years old. After that, we reckon they’ll want to bring a tent along.
It’s not the comfiest plus-1 camper sleeping solution we’ve seen, but it definitely lives up to the name “bivy live” while keeping everyone warm and secure inside a set of solid van walls and hard roof. While there’s no rear drive seating, the Peugeot Expert is available with three front seats, so all three campers will have a place to sit on the ride to camp.
The Mobile Base Camp kitchen comes equipped with a gas stove, sink and 30-L Dometic drawer fridge. The sink is hooked up to a 12V pump, 45-L fresh water tank and waste water tank. Power for the water pump, lighting and other electrical equipment comes from a 100-Ah AGM battery with charger.
Bivy Life adds a full insulation package, carves out plenty of storage space and even manages to sneak in a standard chemical toilet.
Bivy Life helps buyers get exactly the camper van they want by breaking its price list down into a lengthy a la carte offering that starts with two main packages — the Space+Deluxe and Space+Bivouac. Both packages include the main equipment, but the Deluxe offers a heavier insulation package and upmarket trim (e.g. a stainless steel fridge face instead of black plastic). Either can be ordered in two- or three-person configuration, and many specific features can be added or deleted individually.
In addition to two van sizes, Bivy Life offers the brand-new Peugeot Expert in five available trims and various 1.5- and 2.0-liter engine options. Prices vary according to all those different options, with two-person camper vans starting at €35,750 (approx. US$43,175) for a base-level Bivouac and ranging up to €49,450 ($59,725) for the top-trim Deluxe. Three-person vans range between €36,350 and €50,050.
The quick video below highlights the adjustable table and day-to-night transition.
Bivy Life Time Lapse Manip Low Res
Source: Bivy Life (French)
NASA takes delivery of Orion Artemis I spacecraft
After fears that it might require disassembly, Lockheed Martin has completed work on the Artemis I Orion spacecraft and has formally transferred possession to NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) team at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The transfer of the next Orion Spacecraft to NASA on January 15, 2021 is significant because only a few weeks ago there were fears that the Artemis I mission might be significantly delayed or even cancelled.
In November 2020, during final assembly and transfer, a malfunction was discovered in one of eight power and data units (PDU) on the crew module adapter. According to NASA, one of two redundant channels in one of two communications cards in the affected PDU had ceased working. This was a major problem because, though replacing the electronics card is relatively easy, getting to it would require dismantling the spacecraft, which it is not designed for.
Because the Artemis I mission will carry no astronauts and the spacecraft has a high degree of redundancy, the space agency announced on December 17 that the faulty PDU would be left in place and the mission would rely on the backup systems.
Now that the Orion has been transferred to NASA, the EGS team will carry out the final preparations, which include moving it from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy to other facilities at the Space Center for loading with propellants, helium, nitrogen, and ammonia before being integrated into the launch abort system and protective ogive fairing.
After final fueling and assembly, the Orion spacecraft will be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Facility, where it will be hoisted atop the SLS booster rocket in preparation for its flight later this year, which will send it around the Moon and then back to Earth for a splashdown recovery. The purpose of the mission is to certify the spacecraft, ground systems, and rocket for human spaceflight, clearing the way for the crewed circumlunar Artemis II mission.
“Orion is a unique and impressive spacecraft and the team did an outstanding job to get us to this day,” says Mike Hawes, Orion vice president and program manager for Lockheed Martin. “The launch and flight of Artemis I will be an impressive sight, but more importantly it will confirm Orion is ready to safely carry humans to the Moon and back home. This tremendous advancement opens the door to a new era of deep space exploration that will ultimately benefit us back here on Earth.”
Source: Lockheed Martin
Snoek may just be the fastest velomobile you can buy
Although velomobiles are known for being faster than bicycles, some of the more “practical” models can be rather ungainly. That doesn’t apply to the Snoek, though, which is built first and foremost for speed.
Should you be wondering, a velomobile is basically a recumbent tricycle enclosed within an aerodynamic body. While not the greatest at climbing hills, the things are considerably more streamlined than bicycles, so they can reach higher speeds with less effort – on flat roads, at least. They also offer more protection from the elements.
Named after a sleek fish, the Snoek is made by Dutch company Velomobiel.nl. The vehicle is aimed primarily at racing – yes, there are velomobile races – or quick recreational riding, so the emphasis of its design is on going fast.
This can be seen in its lightweight carbon fiber body, the frontal area of which is 20 percent smaller than that of the company’s more general-purpose Quest model.
The whole thing reportedly weighs just 20 kg (44 lb) – by contrast, most other velomobiles tip the scales at around 30 to 40 kg (66 to 88 lb). It should be noted that some models do have electric-assist motors, which the Snoek does not … or at least, not as a standard feature.
There are some nods to practicality, though, as it does incorporate a side mirror along with front and rear suspension. A full lighting system, including turn indicators, is also in the works.
Some of its other features include Sturmey Archer single-sided drum brakes; a 2 x 11 drivetrain (Shimano 105 front derailleur, SLX Shadow rear derailleur, 11-36 SRAM cassette); along with 20-inch front wheels and a 28-incher in the rear. The rider’s head is surrounded by a removable aerodynamic cover not unlike a neoprene kayak skirt, although the company has produced a removable “Racehood” hard top for complete enclosure.
But just how fast is the Snoek?
“One of our first customers is a top recumbent bike sport cyclist who will race with it,” Velomobiel.nl co-founder Theo van Andel tells us. “He now races a Milan SL, he tested the Snoek and said it is a lot faster. He could cruise at 60 km/h [37 mph] easily for a while.”
Should you want to be a customer, though, be prepared to wait a while and spend a lot. Although the Snoek has yet to enter full production, there are already 22 orders in place, which van Andel says should take about a year and a half to fill. Once it is in production, it should be priced at around €8,000 (US$9,663).
In the meantime, you can see the Snoek in action, in the video below.
De Snoek by Velomobiel.nl
Not-so-solitary electric eels observed hunting in packs
It has generally been thought that electric eels are purely solitary animals, which stalk prey on their own. Now, however, scientists have described seeing the creatures hunting in packs – which only nine other fish species are known to do.
Although a paper on the finding was published just this week, the initial observations of the pack hunting strategy were made back in August of 2012.
At that time, a team from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History came across a small river-fed lake along the banks of the Iriri River in Brazil. That lake contained over 100 adult electric eels, some of which were up to 4 feet long (1.2 m).
The electric eel, incidentally, is actually a type of knifefish, and not a true eel.
Led by research associate Carlos David de Santana, the scientists watched as the eels worked together to herd thousands of small tetra fish from deeper water into the shallows, concentrating the schooling fish into a tight ball. Smaller packs of about 10 eels would then split off from the main group, surrounding the ball and emitting electric shocks that stunned the tetras, allowing them to be easily caught and eaten.
On a subsequent expedition to the same area in October 2014, then-Master of Science candidate Douglas Bastos observed the same behaviour. It was found to occur mostly at dawn or dusk, with each hunting session lasting about one hour and involving five to seven electric-shock attacks.
“This is the only location where this behavior has been observed, but right now we think the eels probably show up every year,” says de Santana. “Our initial hypothesis is that this is a relatively rare event that occurs only in places with lots of prey and enough shelter for large numbers of adult eels.”
Another expedition to the lake is now being planned. The scientists hope to measure electrical discharges made by the group of eels, to see if they’re using low-voltage shocks to communicate hunting strategies in the same manner that whales and dolphins coordinate their hunting efforts via acoustic signals.
The research paper was published on Jan. 14th in the journal Ecology and Evolution.
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