Researchers say this inflatable bike helmet is 6 times more effective than yours

Some people don’t wear cycling helmets because they think it makes them look a bit silly, or it messes with their carefully coiffed hair in a way that they fear may cause raucous laughter in a public place when they take it off.

But looking silly and being laughed at are surely a small price to pay if the alternative is a head whose brain is suddenly no longer fit for purpose.

For the terminally vain, one solution is the Hövding, better described as an “airbag for urban cyclists.”

More than six years in the making, we first heard about this scarf-like inflatable head protector in 2013, shortly after its Swedish creators put it on sale. The device’s built-in sensors detect when the cyclist is in a collision, prompting it to rapidly expand around the cyclist’s head, thus protecting it from any injurious impact.

Scientists at Stanford recently decided to put the Hövding through its paces to see how effective it is compared to regular cycling helmets, most of which are made from expanded polystyrene foam.

Concussion specialist David Camarillo and his team conducted the test, strapping the airbag to a crash dummy’s head and dropping it from various heights, and from two different angles, onto a metal platform. The results were impressive.

Camarillo and co. found that the airbag helmet reduced head accelerations by up to six times compared to a regular helmet, greatly reducing the chances of injury.

The airbag’s larger size and increased softness were thought to be the main factors behind the decrease in acceleration, the team said.

But there was a potential downside, too. According to Mehmet Kurt, a postdoctoral scholar working alongside Camarillo, the airbag needed to be in a state of full inflation to gain maximum benefit. For the tests, the researchers pre-inflated the helmet before dropping it, so it’ll also be necessary to measure how quickly it can inflate in different types of accidents.

“As our paper suggests, although air bag helmets have the potential to reduce the acceleration levels that you experience during a bicycle accident, it also suggests that the initial pressure that your air bag helmet has is very critical in reducing these acceleration levels,” Kurt said.

“If our research and that of others begins to provide more and more evidence that this air bag approach might be significantly more effective, there will be some major challenges in the U.S. to legally have a device available to the public,” Camarillo said.

The Hövding is certainly an interesting innovation, though may not be ideal for all situations, for example if you ride into a low-hanging sign or another obstacle where the impact would be too sudden to deploy the airbag.

For now, Camarillo and his team are keen to conduct more tests on the airbag helmet before giving it their full backing, though they appear to be impressed by its potential.

The Hövding isn’t currently available in the U.S. though sells in Europe for €300 (about $335).

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