Saturday, November 16, 2013

Using FLIR While Riding

11/16/13:  I like technology.  What "guy" doesn't?  So, the idea of HUD (Head Up Display) for a motorcycle helmet is high on my cool list.

Check out this article in c/net about the Skully P1 motorcycle helmet.
And, the Nuviz Motorcycle Heads Up Display.
And, the LiveMap Motorcycle HMD

I want to tether my FLIR PathFindIR and rear view camera to a micro display affixed to the inside of my helmet.  Of course, having the feed from navigation would also be way cool.  But, right now I'd settle for using the display for rear view camera during the bright time of the day and the PathFindIR dusk till dawn.

Technology is getting closer. 

This post is about using the FLIR PathFindIR thermal imaging camera to enhance and extend perception distance while riding on a motorcycle.  See: The FLIR Project posting regarding the acquisition and installation on my BMW R1200GS Adventure.  

Rider view:  Using the FLIR in daylight, at dusk, slight overcast.  From this prospective you can see the FLIR display clearly.  Although, not captured by the video camera the resolution of the display is good enough to see the thermal signature of warm blooded critters on the sides of the road 8-12 seconds ahead.  Through practice and experimentation I have found the FLIR most useful by doing a quick glance at the display to a point that represents 6-12 seconds ahead.

(Select Full Screen and HD Quality)

FLIR Field Testing:   The objective of this phase is integrate the FLIR under long distance riding conditions.  How best to employ the system, exploit its capabilities, and identify limitations under day and night operational conditions.

Operational Environments:  Videos in both thermal and visible light spectra. (click on YouTube link when available)

Video Capture Methodology 
Listed above are or will be several videos showing how the FLIR can increase perception distance to gain advance notice of possible hazards on the path of travel.  Some demonstration videos will be a mix of both day and night riding conditions.  There are two types of videos, 1; showing how the road ahead looks from the rider's view and 2; of the thermal image captured by an in-line DVR.  Edited into the DVR recordings will be using visible light rider view, provided by the motorcycle's OEM lighting, captured by GoPro Hero3 action camera using low light settings.  The Hero3 is mounted on top of the FLIR housing to match the prospective views.  This technique provides both visible light and thermal spectrum.

Using the FLIR PathFindIR thermal imagery while riding works differently than using just axillary lighting.  The primary advantage of using FLIR over axillary lighting is thermal contrast. The FLIR system does not detect the "temperature" difference the way a thermometer registers degrees.  Rather, the PathFindIR camera captures the differences in the frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum in the infrared ranges

To detect objects the human visual system looks for object signatures which differentiates it from the background.  The term visual salience is used in cognitive science to describe the features that make objects detectable.

The size of the “difference” with the background must become higher than a “threshold value” before the object becomes salient, or in other words, draws attention.  In terms of naturally camouflage animals, consider the following attributes that have traditionally been mentioned that help one to detect an animal hazard in the riding environment.

Visual Salience

  1. Movement – shapes moving in a static environment or not moving in a dynamic environment will draw attention. 
  2. Shine from reflective surfaces – Eye reflection of animals at night..
  3. Shape – humanoid and animal shapes draw attention
  4. Silhouette – a contrasting blob against the background.
  5. Color and texture – natural camouflage and animal surface textures are hard to detect especially at night.
  6. Shadow – the mind can calculate probable shapes from the shadows cast – especially human and to a lesser degree animal shapes.
  7. Spacing – regular spaced objects form a pattern that will draw attention.
Thermal imagery facilitates detection by inducing readily detectable contrast into the natural background.  By highlighting the infrared signature of animals against the neutral background detection of hazards is significantly enhanced.
Night Riding Basics:
Riding at night poses a special problem for motorcyclists.  Reduced visibility ahead increases the possibility of striking something in the intended path of travel.   Debris on the road, or worse, an animal if struck can result in severe injury, possible death.

It takes training and purposeful practice to reduce the risks of riding at night or under less than ideal visual conditions like fog, heavy rain, smoke or dust.   Using the MSF Rider Radar concept helps to prioritize one's attention while riding.  The table below is how I prioritize the threat for hazards ahead:

  Threat Zone                                           Threat Level
Distance Ahead                 Path of Travel                       Shoulder Margins

      2 Seconds                         Extreme                                High
      4 Seconds                         High                                      Medium
      6 Seconds                         Medium                                 Low
     12 Seconds                        Low                                       Low

Anything in the 4 second immediate path of travel must be dealt with.  A moving hazard anywhere in the 4 second range can quickly become a High threat.  The maneuver choices are reduce speed and/or swerving around the hazard.  The objective is to see hazards before it gets within the total stopping distance of the motorcycle.  Specifically, perception distance, reaction distance and braking distance.  Purposeful practice can reduce reaction distance and a well maintained motorcycle can reduce braking distance.  The FLIR PathFindIR is designed to enhance and extend the perception distance.

Perception distance is how many seconds ahead a potential hazard is recognized.  Under ideal conditions during the day it is possible to see 10 to 12 seconds ahead.  At 60 MPH 15 seconds ahead is one quarter mile.  At night or under less than ideal conditions seeing only 4-6 seconds ahead is the norm.  Sometimes using auxiliary lighting may extend this to 8 seconds.  But these bright lights, like the high beam, must be turned off for approaching traffic. The FLIR PathFindIR can extend this perception distance out to as much as 15 seconds.  And, provides a white hot thermal image of warm blooded hazards within 4-8 seconds ahead.


  1. Put enough lights on your bike that NASA can track you from outer space. I have a FLIR in my BMW760iL and much prefer the additional light. I have 20,000+ lumens of photons for the IBR. I can see an object more than 20 seconds away at 80 mph. I hope this will give ample stopping time. BTW, in the twisties, my lights stay on bright. On the flats with oncoming traffic, I light up the path for about 3 seconds out of 15, to see what might be "out-there". I'm sure the truckers will get over it!

    1. Rex, thanks for the comment. I rely on my stock high/low beam and BMW "driving" lights for 6-8 seconds ahead at highway speed. I have found the FLIR thermal imagery very useful from there out to 12-15 seconds. It is especally good at spotting heat generating naturally camouflaged critters on the path of travel and on the sides of the road, even when they are standing behind light brush. What I really appreciate is a reduction in the stress levels of night riding. Being well into geezerhood I need all the help I can get. FLIR lights up the critters like they are coated in white reflective paint. I also like being able to see the path ahead well when passing oncoming traffic at night. It works well for me.

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