Adding voice and sound to a motorcycle helmet

I started riding motorcycles in February 2018 and soon came up with several problems compared to driving a car. One of the biggest ones that hit me was the lack of navigation instructions, but equally an access to voice assistants, telephone system and voice recording were rather high up in my wish list. In addition, I also wanted to listen to music and podcasts while stuck in traffic.

Existing solutions

There are a number of existing solutions on the market already. Some of these are just for audio and don’t include microphone, some are helmet specific and some are external units that are mounted outside the helmet. Many also have just the speakers but do not include the microphone, and some that have both lack a quick release system near the helmet that is rather essential for comfort – taking the helmet is much more pleasant if one doesn’t need to worry about feet long cable dangling among the rest of the clothing.

Project plan

  • Simple and cheap speakers: Amazon.com

  • Microphones: Amazon.com

  • 3.5mm male and female jacks: Here and here

  • A BlueTooh audio and mic receiver: Amazon.com

  • A short extender cable to connect helmet to the BlueTooth receiver: Amazon.com

The aim was to have one plug for the helmet to connect to a phone or a BlueTooth receiver that would be in a pocket. This would allow fast attachment and detachment. The cables would need to be cut and re-soldered to make them work with mobiles. This would be required anyway, however, to keep the cable at helmet end short.

After ordering the needed equipment, off to a MakerSpace I go. The process was simple, even if requiring stable hands. Peel off the cables, solder them again to male jack and that’s it.

Soldering require some steady hands, knowing where to connect the cables. There was a bit of guessing about which cable was which, but after checking and double checking the connection a few times, it worked.

Despite the messy looking soldering, the outcome was rather polished. In picture above, I’ve yet to heat the shrink wrap to make the connection even more sturdier.

Speakers were rather easy to plug in. Bell Bullitt -helmet has existing cut-offs to put these in, which makes installing a lot easier.

Here is the whole system put together. Extremely well integrated, if I may say so myself. Microphone is hardly in the way at all and the connector can be tucked into paddings when not needed.

From outside, no one could tell the helmet has any modifications made to it at all. Only when connected does one see the connector cable going down to jacket’s breast pocket.

Discussion

No system is perfect, and every project would benefit from a retrospective, this one included.

There is a point in ready-made systems. One of the big ones is reliability. Soldering is not difficult, but it does require practice – cold joints have a good risk to fail. In a ready made system these are done professionally. After some months of riding with this, my connections started to go bad and the right speaker did not get a clean signal without me re-soldering it. This is a hassle that might repeat itself.

Usability wise, the project was a success, however. The connector makes it a lot easier to live with the system compared to what I had before. BlueTooth receiver has turned out to be marvelous as well, though for other reasons than I anticipated in the beginning. It is extremely handy to have rugged buttons outside of the riding jacket to control the playback.

Voice navigation systems are surprisingly good. While it would be helpful to see the lanes and turns, having someone speak to your ear about what to do next is a lot better than stopping to check the directions each time you feel uncertain about where you are and if you’re on the route.

Overall, I’d rather buy a ready made solution due to durability. If such a system comes to market, I’m inclined to switch to it, but in the meantime, this project works wonderfully.