Mankind has been infatuated with invisibility for a long time: there’s H.G. Wells’ 1897 sci-fi novella The Invisible Man, Wonder Woman’s invisible plane, and more recently, Harry Potter has used an invisibility cloak to sneak through the corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Now, two Swedish women have invented an “invisible” bicycle helmet that could revolutionize safety, as well as fashion in the world of biking — banishing “helmet hair” forever.
FASHIONABLE BIKE SAFETY
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 91% of bicyclists killed in 2009 weren’t wearing helmets. Still, many cyclists refuse to wear a helmet citing a variety of reasons and beliefs from “it’s uncomfortable” and “helmets don’t actually work” to “it’s unfashionable” and “I don’t want it to mess up my hair.”
It was the latter two reasons that lead industrial design graduate students Terese Alstin and Anna Haupt to begin working on the device in 2005 at the University of Lund in Sweden.
INFLATABLE PROTECTION: THE TECHNOLOGY
Seven years and many revisions and tests later, the two inventors produced the Hövding (Swedish for “chief”). Worn like a scarf, the Hövding is essentially a collar that contains a rip-resistant, ultra-strong nylon hood, similar to an airbag. This helmet of the future inflates within milliseconds of crash detection.
Sensors hidden in the device monitor the cyclist’s movements more than 200 times per second. When a collision occurs, a canister containing helium in the back of the collar is activated, inflating the protective covering.
The pair say they had to simulate all known accidents in order to get the design elements just right, “Everything from an icy road crash to getting hit by a car,” Alstin says. Thousands of cycling accidents were re-enacted and compared to hundreds of hours of normal cycling using the Hövding.
The duo received assistance from a trauma specialist, the Swedish academic community and scores of bicyclists eager to help the pair crack the code that would allow them to marry style and function in a way that best protects cyclists from some of the most damaging effects of biking accidents.
Unlike a regular helmet, the Hövding protects and cradles a much larger area than just the skull, providing soft cushioning and gentle shock absorption while still leaving your field of vision clear. During a crash the non-helmet’s pressure remains constant so that it can withstand several head impacts before deflating.
Zipping beneath the chin, and with the appearance of a scarf, the Hövding has an on/off switch at the front of the collar and LED lights that display battery levels and whether the device is on or off.
The helmet is now available for sale online in the European Union here.