The largest Indiegogo campaign of 2016 held great promise: the Skully AR helmet was touted to deliver an enhanced riding experience to motorcycle drivers, with a 360-degree view of the road provided by a built-in rearview camera, a GPS screen, bluetooth connection and more. Pre-priced at $1500, the augmented reality helmet generated enough buzz to encourage about 1,000 pre-orders totaling $2.5 million.
It seemed to good to be true for the fans that called themselves “Skully Nation”. And it was: after multiple delays and reports of mismanagement, the company shut down and filed for bankruptcy without refunding any pre-orders. It seemed as though Skully fans were out of luck.
But last year, two cousins from Spain, entrepreneurs in the smart mobility space who have a track record of turning failing companies around, purchased the assets of the failed Skully Inc. They moved the operations from the Bay area to Atlanta and re-branded as Skully Technologies, a startup with the intention to both make things right with its original fans and expand on delivering the best of smart mobility hardware.
“All that was left over from the company were the patents and some inventory,” explains John Lauten, Skully’s Atlanta-based COO and a long-time technology veteran. Lauten came on last year under President/CEO Ivan Contreras to build out the Atlanta team.
The first order of business, Lauten says, was making sure the original Skully nation wasn’t overlooked. The company has launched a “Make It Right” campaign, which allows any of the original Indiegogo backers to enter their information to receive a Skully helmet when they are released — for their original price, despite the cost increasing now to $1900.
“The Skully brand creates a lot of passion in the motorcycle community,” sys Lauten. “They all wanted this product so badly that literally thousands of people prepaid the full amount, $1500, to be in line to receive the helmet. If we were going to reintroduce this product to the market we had to address this.”
“The CEO of Indiegogo actually sought me out at CES to shake my hand and tell me that this is the highest level of integrity he’s seen in tech,” says Lauten.
The next order of business was the actual helmet. Re-christened the Skully AR Fenix, the high-tech helmet debuted this month at the Consumer Electronics Show and will begin shipping this summer.
After the first model is released, Lauten says they’ll quickly pivot to an even more cutting edge model two. They haven’t made a final determination on the features they’ll add, but he does say they’re considering a shell made of carbon fiber — the material is stronger than steel and weighs less than plastic.
It might all seem a little indulgent for an accessory, but Lauten says Skully’s mission is about much more than high-tech tricks. The new owners, Ivan and Rafael Contreras, own a host of businesses in smart mobility and smart transportation — Skully ads to a growing portfolio in a field they call “personal mobility interconnect”.
“It’s all about bringing technology and network together for the benefit of smart cities and safer transportation,” says Lauten. So Skully, if you look at our website, we are initially a company dedicated to producing wearable technology to improve the rider experience. But if you look at the broader message we’re really making wearable tech for that personal mobility interconnect.”
It’s also a safety product. The helmet’s rear-facing camera provides full-circle vision, it includes navigation and GPS, and it all runs off of hands-free voice command that can be paired to a smartphone.
Now that the Make It Right campaign has launched and the first iteration of the helmet is in the works, Lauten has turned his eye towards growth. The company is moving into a new office at Armour Yards in Midtown, Atlanta and plans to reach 25 employees by the time the helmet comes out this summer. They’re hiring in engineering, marketing and customer support.
Their new headquarters allows them to recruit top talent from the region’s schools, as well as take advantage of Atlanta’s established strength in transportation and focus on the growing industries of smart city/IoT and mobility.
Lauten says the Contrerases are looking to bring some of their other smart mobility companies, which include a motorcycle manufacturer and a smart scooter rental service, to the city soon as well. Ivan Contreras echoed the same in a statement last year: “I believe Atlanta is the ideal home for SKULLY Technologies and I plan to bring other businesses to this highly talented and quickly growing region,” he said.
Photos provided by Skully Technologies