If you ride a motorcycle, you may have noticed that the cost of airbag vests has dropped. In one case, something very different is going on here. As reported by Motherboard, you can pick up a KLIM Ai-1 for $400 but the airbag built into it will not function until unlocked with an additional purchase, and a big one at that. So do you really own the vest for $400?
Given the nature of the electronics and computer business lately, we spend a good bit of time thinking of what it means to own a piece of technology. Do you own your cable modem or cell phone if you aren’t allowed to open it up? Do you own a piece of software that wants to call home periodically and won’t let you stop it? Sometimes it makes sense that you are paying for a service. But there have been times where, for example, a speaker company essentially bricks devices that could work fine on their own even though you — in theory — own the device.
Nice Airbag You Got There; Be a Shame if It Didn’t Go Off
The Klim airbag vest has two components that make it work. The vest itself is from Klim and costs $400 and arrives along with the airbag unit. But if you want it to actually detect an accident and inflate, you need load up a smartphone app and activate a small black box made by a different company: In&Motion. That requires your choice of another $400 payment or you can subscribe at $12 a month or $120 a year. If you fail to renew, the vest is essentially worthless.
To put this in electronics terms, it is one thing to realize your oscilloscope no longer does I2C protocol decoding because accounting screwed up paying the bill. It is another thing to suffer life-changing or life-ending injuries due to an accident. Granted, you get a 30 day grace period to correct any problems with payment, but still.
Pardon Me While I Feed the Meter on My Critical Safety Device
I can’t really decide how I feel about this. The capitalist in me knows that you need to make a profit. However, this seems like putting coin-operated oxygen on a commercial airliner. Especially since the vest apparently can work fine with no external support as long as you paid the extra $400. In all fairness, indicator lights which must be verified before every ride will alert you if the vest is locked for non-payment (or any other problem), so there’s little chance you’d drive with it thinking you had protection that you didn’t.
So maybe this is defensible, but you have to wonder where this trend will take us. Will we see cars that require a subscription to use advanced safety features the way automotive companies already upsell some non-critical software features?
What do you think? Do you own a vest that needs a subscription? Some things are incapable of working without backend support (for example, your cell phone or cable modem). Is it more defensible to cut those off? Even so, many areas require all cell phones to be capable of calling emergency services (like 911 in the US) no matter the state of their associated account. That’s a crucial safety feature of a phone and all it requires is that you have the device, not the subscription.