The first time Marcus Weller, CEO and founder of Skully Helmets, crashed his motorcycle into the back of a car in Barcelona in 2009, it was a painful reminder of his mortality.
He had been selected for a year-long international relations fellowship with a German nonprofit and traveled to Barcelona for research. Without a car, Weller decided to take a cue from the locals by getting around on two wheels.
"I don't know if you've ever been to Barcelona, but they put the street signs anywhere. Sometimes they're on a building and sometimes they're on a dog running by," he says. "I turned to my right to take a good, hard look at what street I would be turning on. I looked back because I heard these tires chirp. By that time, I was practically on top of this car and totaled my bike."
The second time a crash seemed imminent, it was 2011 and he was asleep, dreaming about that fateful day in Barcelona. "The difference [in the dream] was I had my GPS maps and they were floating in front of me like a hologram," he says.
He woke up from the dream at 4 a.m., grabbed his laptop and—even though he didn't own a motorcycle at the time—began unsuccessfully looking for a helmet like the one he had been wearing in his dream. The next day his father pointed out that an idea powerful enough to wake him out of a deep sleep was at least worth the money it cost to file a provisional patent.
The dream—and his father's encouragement—inspired Weller to build the Skully P-1, an Android-powered helmet with voice control, heads-up display, turn-by-turn directions, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Earlier this month Weller, 29, began demoing his invention, which he says gives riders an ear-to-ear panorama of what's happening around them. He's put out the call for beta testers and has been in talks with executives in the motorcycle helmet industry.
"I've always had a major passion for how people interpret their world and human intelligence. It was always a fascinating thing to me," says Weller, who has a PhD in industrial psychology from Wayne State University in Detroit.
Now he finds himself exhilarated by the small tasks, like paperwork and meetings, that are part and parcel of running his own company. "None of that stuff seems menial to me," Weller says. "Even what other people may consider the dull parts of going and buying the parts, going through the first versions of a product until it works the way you want it to, or even filing paperwork—all of that stuff I see as tangible and tactical things bringing us closer to our goal."
By "us" he means the four-man team that manages Skully Helmets, which is based in Redwood City, Calif. They expect to start selling the P-1 in early 2014.
"We see an opportunity to take this technology and eventually expand it to growing markets, but we're laser-focused on bringing this motorcycle helmet to market because we feel there's an immense opportunity to really disrupt a market and save lives," he says. Not to mention finally turning a dream into reality.