Riding a motorcycle can severely damage your hearing over time, and until now, the only solution has been to use ear plugs – and many riders won’t, because it cuts down sounds they need to hear while riding. But finally, there is a high-tech solution to this age-old problem from Sena, and the technology is very impressive. Check it out!
Sena just announced the release of their new INC (“Intelligent Noise Cancelling”) Helmet that stands to change the game in smart helmets. But will it live up to the hype?
There is a “silent killer” slowly destroying your hearing every time you go out for a ride on your motorcycle. And if you’re smart, and value your hearing at all, you’d be wise to do something about it.
It may sound a bit dramatic, but as I wrote about in my article last year The Silent Killer: Wind Noise and Hearing Loss, the threat of cumulative hearing loss while riding a motorcycle is very real. Here’s why riding motorcycles is so bad for your hearing (and contrary to popular belief, it’s not the sound of the motorcycle itself, so whether or not you ride a “loud bike” is irrelevant.) The true threat is the constant sound of wind rushing past your ears when you ride – which at highway speeds, can be well over 100dB!
To make matters worse, rushing wind is a continuous, “high frequency” sound, which means you tend not to notice it, even as it slowly beats your eardrums to death. In addition, constant exposure to noise accelerates fatigue, which is part of the reason you feel so exhausted after a long ride without hearing protection. Bottom line: if you ever ride on the highway for more than a couple hours at a time, this problem affects you, and your long-term hearing is truly at risk.
So what to do about it? The best solution is old fashioned, cheap, and simple – wearing a set of earplugs, which can cut noise to well within the “safe zone.” But many riders don’t like to wear ear plugs because they feel disconnected from ambient sounds that they want to hear (approaching ambulance sirens, for example.) In addition, ear plugs can be a hassle to use – if you’ve ever tried to hold a conversation with someone with your helmet on, you know what I mean!
These days, there has to be a better way than just shoving things into your ears, right? Well finally, Sena, the name you know as a leader in motorcycle communication devices since 1998, has come up with a high-tech, digital solution to this age-old problem. It is the Sena INC “Intelligent Noise Cancelling” Helmet – and you’re going to love to see how it works.
High-Tech Ear Plugs…And So Much More
The low-tech way of preventing damaging sound is to simply block it – but the problem is, that blocks ALL sound, not just the sounds you don’t want to hear (in other words, they essentially make you temporarily deaf – not something you want to be on a motorcycle.) The smart way to prevent that sound is to “cancel” it instead, which is what the INC does.
This cutaway shows the integrated microphones that gather sound, the processing unit that cleans it up, and the ear cups where it is sent to the rider’s ears. Impressive? Yes. But affordable? We’ll see!
Here’s how it works. The Sena INC has four microphones hidden throughout the helmet to detect the sounds around the rider. The sound information they gather is sent to a microprocessor in the helmet that analyzes it, separating out the bad sounds (droning, high frequency wind noise) then calculating and inserting the correct frequencies to neutralize them.
That “cleaned up” sound is then transmitted to the riders ears, which are covered by ear cups inside the helmet (like on a set of studio headphones.) The result: the rider can clearly hear all the “good sounds,” like engine RPM, horns, sirens, or a buddy talking, without being exposed to damaging wind noise. According to Sena, the INC helmet can reduce sound up to 20dB, well below the 100db “danger zone.”
This graph shows the dramatic reduction in damaging sound levels that a rider hears while using the INC Helmet.
In addition to this high-tech solution to hearing damage, the fact that this is a Sena helmet means it will be easy to integrate with a Bluetooth communication system as well. This could make the Sena helmet a revolution in the sensory experience of riding – ability to hear music, phone calls, navigation, and communication from other riders perfectly, and still being able to remain connected to sounds of the road, while eliminating all the sound that is detrimental to riders hearing. I really thing Sena is onto something here!
The Sena INC Helmet Sounds Awesome…But What’s The Bad News?
The down sides? Well, it almost certainly won’t come cheap. Price estimates around the industry range from around $600 to $1000; and the Bluetooth communication system for the helmet will be an upgrade, so expect another couple hundred bucks for that. Then again, helmets already aren’t cheap, so perhaps that’s not too unreasonable for an entire helmet with the technology built into it.
But that brings us to the next problem – helmets are a very personal choice for riders, who tend to choose helmets based on three criteria: fit, appearance, and brand loyalty. In order for this to work, Sena would have to get riders to ditch their brands and trust their heads to a helmet from a non-helmet company – and that’s assuming that someone who wanted one had the right head shape for it. The Sena will only come in five colors: Carbon Fiber, Black, White, Silver, and Hi-Viz Yellow, so those who like the look of a graphic helmet will have to look elsewhere.
The INC is made by motorcycle communication leader Sena, so you know it’s going to be fully integratable with their communication systems, which is a huge plus. This cutaway shows where an add-on comm system can be installed.
My Thoughts on the Sena INC Helmet
Overall, the Sena INC helmet represents a huge leap forward in technology for motorcycle riders, and I really admire the company for using their expertise to find a solution to the problem with the damaging noise that affects nearly every rider on the road. I also like that they’re jumping into the “smart helmet” game early on, as that is a trend that is sure to escalate since Skully introduced the concept early last year.
I do think this may be a tough sell to consumers – especially if the price point turns out to be on the high side – but I am excited about the prospects this helmet and others like it will bring to the riding community, and am looking forward to seeing how this does on the market when it drops in early 2016.
What do you think of this technology? Would you buy the Sena INC helmet, and if so, how much would you pay for it?