Although bicycle helmets offer great protection, it is certainly still possible to sustain a head injury while wearing one. This fact prompted two Swedish companies to develop a prototype helmet equipped with an airbag, which could make a big difference in the event of an accident.
The helmet was designed and tested through a partnership between car safety systems manufacturer Autoliv and protective clothing company POC. Although few technical details have been provided, we do know that the device incorporates sensors that detect movements associated with sudden falls, an electronic control unit that automatically inflates the airbag and the airbag itself.
The latter consists of three fabric channels that remain hidden under the removable outer panels of the helmet when not in use, but inflate and expand instantly in the event of an accident. They reach a pressure of 60 Kilopascals (8.7 psi), covering the sides and top of the head.
According to Autoliv, the idea is that the airbag will act as an initial energy absorber, with the helmet’s underlying foam liner serving as a secondary absorber. This feature is supposed to not compromise the helmet’s design, weight or comfort – in other words, it’s much like a normal helmet during regular riding.
In a pre-study (a small study preceding a larger planned one), the helmet was placed on the head of a crash test dummy, which was then dropped up to 1.8 m (5.9 feet) on flat or inclined surfaces – this configuration simulated different types of impact with the road or other surfaces. Tests have shown that in the event of an impact at 20 km/h (12 mph), the risk of moderate to fatal head injuries to the wearer is reduced by 80% (when using a regular helmet ) to 30%.
A POC representative tells us that the next phase of research is about to begin, hopefully leading to a commercial product in the future. In the meantime, potential buyers might want to check out the existing Hövding airbag collar – which extends to become a helmet when a fall is detected – as well as the airbag-equipped EVOC cycling backpack and the Cirrus cycling jacket.