Common Tread

PLY Kickstarter helmet promises smart on a budget

Dec 08, 2017

PLY, the "embedded smart technology helmet," is taking orders and selling out quickly.

Before I say anything more about the PLY Kickstarter project, I need to make sure everyone reading this knows about Skully. Crowdfunding and smart helmets have a bad history that’s only now showing signs of improvement. In 2014, the original Skully team launched a smart heads-up display helmet on Indigogo for $1,400 to $2,000, but things quickly went sideways in Skully Nation. If you want to learn more about what went down, Common Tread covered it here, but in summary, people who put up money got nothing from the project’s creators. The whole Skully mess was bought out, and the new management wants to make things right for the original backers. Crowdfunding sites like Indigogo and Kickstarter are perfect for early adopters, but risks, delays, and failures are just part of the game.

Of course, PLY’s take on a smart helmet is very different from Skully’s, but they still need to contend with backers’ trust issues from the past. At $399 for the Super Early Bird backing level (still available at the time of writing), the risk is far lower. PLY's tech is also far less ambitious than the heads-up display Skully promised. To summarize PLY, each helmet comes with a camera, speakers, and microphone built in, plus connectivity to your mobile device via WiFi and Bluetooth.

Safety is supposed to be a helmet’s first function. PLY helmets wear a standard-looking fiberglass street shell, with a face shield, drop-down internal sun visor, vents, and DOT/ECE 22.05 compliance. In their FAQs, PLY recommends using full-face HJC helmets as a sizing reference, so I have to wonder if HJC is also building PLY's shells. You get a D-ring chin strap, a removable liner, and that’s pretty much it. PLY doesn’t spend much time showing their helmet’s physical specs in favor of highlighting that onboard tech.

PLY photo.
PLY Smart Helmet, in black. PLY photo.

Once connected to your phone, the PLY seems fairly straightforward. You can make calls, navigate, and listen to music over the connection. The noise-cancelling microphone and speakers handle input and output. A call button on the left side handles answering and ending calls, while another button toggles WiFi and Bluetooth. PLY’s app, which we don’t get to see much in the video, only links to the helmet over WiFi. It’s used for adjusting settings and managing videos. No, the PLY can’t pair with a Sena or similar device, though the creators suggest using a free PTT app to connect the two. And no, it doesn’t have a heads-up display of any kind.

The video claims “no more GoPro!”, but a look at the camera’s specs doesn’t convince me to ditch mine so quickly. Sure, the PLY’s camera qualifies as HD, but I wouldn’t collect ride footage for YouTube with this setup. 720p at 30 fps is no replacement for even the GoPro HD HERO Original from 2010, which could manage 1080p at 60 fps. Then again, a modern HERO 6 costs more than PLY’s entire helmet, which is why I think PLY intends their embedded camera to function like a dash cam. The camera’s data recording and lens angle also suggest it’s based on a dash cam built by PLY’s parent company eCell.

PLY packed all kinds of gadgetry into the helmet's guts. PLY photo.
Lots of gadgetry baked in. PLY photo.

PLY photo.
The PLY hides its tech well. PLY photo.
Maybe a better way to pitch the camera would be “no more GoPro as a moto dash cam,” which is a great idea for a dash cam company getting into helmets. I can imagine riders willing to compromise on video quality and features in exchange for peace of mind that the camera’s always there and rolling. One touch of the power button, and PLY records date, location, speed, and battery level on a continuous loop. Plus, an export and a little edit work should get you Instagram-worthy clips.

Will I back this project? No, but I’m glad to see integrated smart tech coming in at the sub-$500 price point. That's a trend to look for as manufacturers explore embedded smart tech. For the usually-solo rider looking for basic recording, smartphone connection, and a standard street helmet, the PLY might be a project to consider. I’d give it another look if PLY stuffed a rear-facing camera in there (like Skully or CrossHelmet) along with a better communications solution than free PTT apps.

The PLY smart helmet is an “all or nothing” project, which means it won’t happen unless they reach their goal of $30,000 by January 8 2018. They already passed 70 percent funding, so I don’t see that being an issue. If you’d like to get on board, here’s their Kickstarter. Delivery is projected for April 2018, but in my experience, Kickstarters tend to run a little late. For the right person, a PLY smart helmet could be worth the wait.