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Road Gear

Reviewed: ICEdot Crash Sensor

The helmet-mounted pod notifies loved ones of a crash using an app on your cell phone

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There’s one truth that comes with riding. No matter who you are, where you ride, or how talented you think you are, you’re going to crash and, probably, take a good hit to the head at least once. ICEdot has a name for those people; bike wreckers. We’re all bike wreckers.

ICEdot’s Crash Sensor can notify loved ones within seconds of your crash. The small, yellow pod mounts to your helmet and uses an accelerometer, a Bluetooth connection to your phone, and stored emergency contact data to get the word out when you may be unable to.

The Crash Sensor is a nifty bit of design, melding seamlessly into the riding experience like few other cycling gadgets and offering peace of mind to the wearer and his or her loved ones. There are few downsides, though the Sensor and its corresponding app are not perfect — at least not yet.

How it works

Cycling helmets can deter a head injury, but cannot prevent it absolutely, and with most companies exploring aerodynamics and ventilation more than protection, it’s imperative that consumers take head injuries seriously.

ICEdot has been around for a few years in the emergency notification market with a variety of products, all with the intention of alerting one’s emergency contacts that loved ones may have been in an accident and are en route to the hospital. The ICEdot wristbands and stickers were targeted at the general public, but never garnered much traction.

When the owner of ICEdot, Chris Zenthoefer, took control of ICEdot in August of 2011, he wanted to target the products more for elite athletes. As Zenthoefer put it, “Athletes are keenly aware that really bad stuff can happen to really healthy people. The general public rarely associates the idea that they could end up in the hospital at any time.”

The ICEdot Crash Sensor — designed by Biju Thomas and SenseTech, who remain partners with ICEdot — uses an accelerometer housed in a small plastic shell, mounted on any helmet, to measure impacts to the head. The sensor is rechargeable via a micro-USB port that also doubles as one of the three engagement slots into the helmet mount — effectively keeping water and other grime out of the port.

The brilliance of the Crash Sensor is its utilization of your phone’s processing power, GPS capability, and network connectivity to determine location and send out notices. By tethering to a much more powerful device, your phone, the Sensor itself can be kept small and relatively cheap while maintaining a full suite of functionality.

When an impact occurs, the accelerometer will trigger the ICEdot app on your Bluetooth-enabled iPhone (an version is on its way for the Bluetooth-enabled Windows phone), which begins a countdown that can be tuned to ring for between 15 seconds and two minutes. If you’re not coherent enough to turn it off within the window of time you set, your emergency contacts will be notified of the incident and your location via text, call, or email.

If the impact was accidental — dropping your helmet or similar — simply stop the timer before it counts all the way down, and your emergency contacts will be none the wiser (and no more worried than usual).

The Crash Sensor attaches to your helmet with either a small piece of 3M adhesive or zip ties. Use both. Additional helmet mounts can be purchased in packs of two for $10. One helmet mount is included with each Crash Sensor.

The Crash Sensor will likely outlive your helmets — assuming you replace your helmets after each crash, as you should. At $150, the Crash Sensor is not cheap, but this is a device that can save your life should you take a spill on your next solo adventure. That $150 also includes a year-long ICEdot premium membership. Additional one year premium memberships are $10.

The app

Like any application-based device, there are constant improvements being made. Just before this story was filed, ICEdot updated the app to allow the user to name their Crash Sensor and have the app remember that sensor. Before, riders had to manually select the proper sensor at the start of each ride; now, just open the app and press “Go.”

Bluetooth 4.0 allows the Crash Sensor to avoid maintaining constant contact with the phone, saving battery, but the Crash Sensor can reach out to the phone at any time.

The level of GPS precision can be set within the ICEdot app; the more precise it is set, from a minimum of 10 meters or out to 3 kilometers, the more frequently your phone will ping GPS satellites, and the faster its battery will drain. We set ours at 100 meters, tight enough for an emergency contact to know exactly where to look, but wide enough to save a bit of battery life.

The application also reads how much battery life is remaining in the Crash Sensor. ICEdot advertises a life of 20 hours of use between charges, but we have gotten nearly twice that out of the Crash Sensor between charges.

There are a few problems with the app as it stands today, some of which are a function Apple’s iOS 6 rather than the app itself.

If you start up the ICEdot app and then swap to another app, to play music, for example, the phone will not buzz loudly when the accelerometers are triggered. Instead, it will make the same noise or buzz as it would for any other notification — easily missed when on the trail. That means that you could send a notification to emergency contacts and never know it.

When the upcoming iOS 7 operating system is released, the app will be able to force itself to the “front” and beep loudly, much like a flash-flood warning does on the current iPhone.

In the interim, ICEdot is working on an app update that will allow emergency contacts to see an updated map following a notification. So they’ll be able to tell if you continue down the trail, hopefully unharmed.

More important than the fixable app bugs, ICEdot cannot send out its SOS signal when the iPhone’s cellular data is turned off, or when you’re deep in the woods without cell service.

Sometimes we turn off the cellular data to give our phones more juice on longer rides. This cannot be done when using the ICEdot Crash Sensor — cutting off your phone’s data connection makes the ICEdot useless. The Crash Sensor application needs a cellular signal with data to notify emergency contacts.

The ability to get an emergency signal out via satellite when service is low or nonexistent would increase the Crash Sensor’s viability for the more rugged outdoorsmen among us, but would likely bump the price up significantly as well. It is the Crash Sensor’s piggybacking on the much more powerful iPhone that makes it so simple, brilliant, and relatively cheap; but it’s also a fatal flaw for anyone who plans to spend most of their time far from civilization.

For us, the equation is a rather simple one. The vast majority of our riding still takes place in places with cell service, and for those rides alone the ICEdot is worth its weight in gold.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.