Gizmos

Why the Apple Store Is Selling a Bike Helmet

The Lumos helmet’s integration with the Apple Watch makes a cool gadget even cooler—and shows us the promise of smartwatches.

A Lumos helmet, bike handlebars, and an Apple Watch.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Lumos and Apple.

When you head to the Apple Store, you expect rows of Macs, iPads, and iPhones—not a bicycle helmet. While the Apple Store largely features products made by Apple, the company is increasingly featuring a mix of novel and useful iOS and Mac accessories. You can find wireless chargers, HomeKit-compatible smart home products, and even drones. And when you walk in one of 300 Apple retail locations this spring, you’ll also find a helmet alongside all those Apple devices and dongles.

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Lumos is a connected bike helmet outfitted with controllable lights for added safety and signaling. Situated on the rear of the helmet, its array of 38 LEDs can light up to form a red triangle or white turn signal as additional visibility on top of traditional front and rear bike lights. The helmet was recently updated with two compelling new features centered around the Apple Watch. The first is the ability for the watch to discern your hand signals while riding, automatically illuminating the helmet’s turn signals when you do so. The second is convenient for those looking to track their workouts and daily activities: Whenever the helmet is switched on, it will automatically start recording your activity through Apple Health.

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Lumos began as part of the Hax accelerator, a program specifically focused on investing in and advancing hardware startups. Hax has partnerships with a variety of retailers including Target, Best Buy, and Apple, and participating startups are given the chance to pitch to and collaborate with these potential customers to bring their products to market. As part of the program, Lumos’ co-founder Eu-wen Ding was able to pitch the Apple retail team, which raised an interesting possibility—that Lumos, a bike helmet, could be sold by Apple. However, in order for a third-party product to be considered for availability in Apple Stores, it needs to integrate with Apple products in an interesting way. While the helmet already worked with an iOS app for its battery notifications, the team needed something more novel. They brainstormed, and the Apple Watch idea “stood out as a killer feature,” Ding says. Most Apple Watch applications either augment or offer a minimized version of a smartphone app. It’s rare to see the watch used as a controller outside of the occasional Apple TV game. The Lumos team worked on the feature for seven months, with the Apple retail team available for feedback during the process.

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Originally, Lumos owners could operate the device’s arrow-shaped lights on the back of the helmet using a small remote control affixed to the bike’s handlebars. This was fine, albeit a little inconvenient at times. The Apple Watch solution is far slicker: Following a short calibration setup in the watch app to differentiate between your normal hand positioning on the bars of your bike and your hand position when signaling right or left, all you have to do is gesture while riding to automatically illuminate the helmet’s sensors. While they’re lit, the Apple Watch gently buzzes periodically as a reminder that it’s on. To switch off the signal once you’ve completed your turn, you simply shake your wrist, like clearing an Etch A Sketch screen.

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The helmet’s tie-in to Apple Health is also notable. Whenever the helmet is switched on—something you presumably won’t do unless you’re about to start a ride—the app automatically starts recording an activity for you. For fitness die-hards, activity tracking via app or GPS device may be second nature, but for those who commute or bike less frequently, that may not be the case. With this automatic tracking feature enabled, helmet wearers get a better perspective on their overall health and daily activity stats. One of the goals of Apple Health is to provide a holistic view of your overall health, and including stats on specific activities like your daily commute can make that picture more accurate, which can be important if you’re sharing information with a physician or formulating a diet or weight loss plan.

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The Apple Watch can do a host of useful things, but this third-party product integration is the sort of magical experience we’ve largely been waiting to see. Without opening an app on your watch or your iPhone, you can automatically record an activity. With a stretch of your arm, you can control the function of the device. It works because it’s very specific: Without the helmet turned on, you’ll never accidentally set its lights ablaze. Apple has explored expanding its gesture-based functions, but we move around so often that it would be challenging to differentiate a dedicated command from an accidental arm wave. Still, Lumos’ example could pave the way for other devices to integrate Apple Watch gestures and automatic functions into their feature sets. Perhaps when you switch on your connected TV or Apple TV, for example, gestures could replace some remote functionality. A bike helmet may be among the first to incorporate this sort of technology, but it won’t be the last.

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