Recently, two Swedish graduate industrial design students have launched an “invisible” bike helmet: The Hövding device.

The helmet has the appearance of a bulky scarf. It senses motion and shoots an inflatable airbag around the cyclist’s head and neck to protect them from the shock of an accident. The collar style can be changed according to the outfit of the biker.

The designers, Terese Alstin and Anna Haup, started working on the device in 2005, when they were studying industrial design at Sweden’s University of Lund. They co-founded Hövding, and spent seven years researching and developing the product. On the company’s website, it states that “the idea of developing a new type of cycle helmet was a response to the introduction of a law on mandatory helmet use for children up to the age of 15 in Sweden, which triggered a debate on whether cycle helmets should be mandatory for adults too.”

The designers have explained that during research, an enormous amount of accident data was collected. This data was analyzed to find motion patterns so that the device could distinguish between movements in a normal situation from motions that are generated by an accident.

According to the company, “Thousands of cycling accidents were re-enacted using stunt riders and crash-test dummies to collect the specific movement patterns of cyclists in accidents. In parallel, an equal amount of normal cycling data has been collected using test cyclists wearing Hövding in everyday cycling. Based on this collected data, we have developed an algorithm that can distinguish normal cycling from accidents.”

The device also records the ten seconds prior to an accident in order to analyze the data and improve the product. In terms of battery, the device can be charged from a computer using a USB port.

But, why are they necessary? Today, many have argued that helmets are bulky and not aesthetically pleasing, although that is a low price to pay for the protection of your head. Nonetheless, in many places, especially where helmet protection isn’t mandatory, people tend to bike without wearing a helmet. The most common justification you hear is that they are just biking around the corner, and/or they don’t want to ruin their hairstyle.

The Hövding device is an innovative alternative. The company announced that it had passed the EU safety standards, and there have now been thousands sold around the world. Aesthetically-speaking, it is more stylish than regular bike helmets because you can change the style of the helmet, plus it disguises itself as a scarf.

In terms of actual protection, the airbag sprouted by the helmet covers a much larger area than the traditional helmet. The device is also said to be three to four times more shock-absorbent than the traditional helmet.

The cost of the device is around $500 a piece. Increasingly, cities around the world have been investing in biking infrastructure so as to encourage biking as a mode of transportation. Hövding may have found a large potential market for its product.

However, an important downside to the helmet is that it can’t be used again after an accident. The company says that there are some insurance companies that will cover part of the cost of a new helmet.

In terms of its uses, the helmet seems to be exclusively designed for city environments. If we take the helmet outside the city, there is no guarantee that it will be as effective in other environments.

For instance, it would be a very challenging task to study the motions concerned with mountain biking. Nonetheless, when biking in the woods, it is likely that bears, raccoons, and squirrels do not mind seeing the good old-fashioned bike helmet.

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