By Sam Parker
Although most people stop wearing helmets about the same time they take the basket off of the front of their bike, millions of cyclists, drivers, and riders depend on helmets to keep their noggins safe (and display their affinity for flaming skull graphics).
But helmet tech has not been sitting still. With physiologically-based constructions and fashionable designs, helmets offer more safe, durable alternatives to those looking for more than traditional carbon-fiber covers.
Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) Helmet
In simulating the liquid buffer of the brain’s natural protection system, the Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) utilizes a low-friction, cushioning layer to protect the head from harm.
After completing 15 years of research and preparation in Stockholm, Sweden, MIPS, the name of the company and of the technology, released its innovative product, calling it the “new generation” of helmet equipment.
The idea of MIPS was inspired by the absorptive nature of cerebrospinal fluid, which cushions the brain during movement by allowing it to “float” around in the skull. The helmet, then, acts as a pillow for one’s head by providing a soft, spongy layer between its outer shell and liner.
Because protection tests for conventional helmets solely focus on vertical impacts, MIPS researchers and neurosurgeons wanted to develop strong protections for oblique falls. Since the majority of head accidents involve angled, not vertical, falls, MIPS helmets are designed to absorb the damaging rotational energy of oblique collisions by allowing the outer shell to slide independently of the liner. According to the company’s website, results show the technology can “reduce the forces to the brain by up to 40% at an impact angle of 45.” As for its 90-degree, vertical-impact protection, the mechanism ranks similarly to traditional helmets.
MIPS technology is currently available in bicycle, equestrian and snow helmets and is offered through manufacturers like Scott and Red. In the future, the company hopes to expand its services to American football and motorcycle helmets as well. MIPS equipment is not substantially heavy and is listed on the market for about $150 per helmet.
Contrasting the entire concept of a helmet, the Swedish Hövding is a collar that contains a folded airbag, which uses sensor technology to provide protection to cyclists. Created for individuals aged 15 and older, it offers an attractive alternative to older bicyclists who despise wearing traditional helmets.
In terms of protection, the waterproof neck covering holds a nylon, hood-shaped airbag made of strong, durable fabric. Similar to the deployment of car airbags, the Hövding airbag deploys as soon as internal sensors detect abnormal movement. Through a gas inflator located on the back of the collar, the airbag inflates in about 0.1 seconds to surround all but the cyclist’s field of vision.
“The instant it is triggered, the pressure from the airbag splits open the upper seam of the collar, allowing the hood to inflate around your head,” the company’s website states. “The airbag provides soft and effective shock absorption and maintains constant pressure for several seconds, making it able to withstand several impacts to the head in the same accident. After that, the airbag slowly starts to deflate.”
The battery-operated sensory technology, when turned on by the control switch located at the front of the collar, constantly monitors a cyclist’s movements. These movements are then divided into two categories, normal and abnormal. According to the company, normal movements are defined as, “All bicycling in the city and on main roads, as well as all the normal movements you make before, during and after a bicycle ride such as running up and down steps, locking your bicycle, braking suddenly, giving way, pumping the tires, etc.” Abnormal movements, on the other hand, are defined as movement patterns involving “accidents.”
Creators of Hövding claim they determined the definition of “accident” after years of gathering and studying data on movement patterns.
“We’ve also re-enacted all known types of bicycling accidents and recorded the movement patterns of bicyclists in these accidents,” the website states. “We staged fatal bicycling accidents using crash test dummies, while other bicycling accidents were re-enacted by stunt riders, male and female. We put all these movement patterns into our database and have developed a unique, patent pending, mathematical method for distinguishing between normal and abnormal movements.”
Hövding collars are covered by removable, washable shells that come in a variety of colors and designs so that wearers can change cases to match their biking outfits. They come in two sizes, small and medium, and according to the company’s website, the technology’s effectiveness is not deterred by how loosely or tightly it fits around your neck. The collar’s weight is evenly distributed across the shoulders but is heavier in the back so that the cyclists do not feel weighed down in the front while riding. Prices for the collar alone fall around $580, while a plain, black shell costs approximately $72.