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May 26, 2013

Coming January, 2015: The Invisible Helmet

by Anne Paddock

Bicycle helmets are one of those products we have a love-hate relationship with. Designed to protect the head from the trauma of an accident, the helmet can also be hot, uncomfortable, and restricting. Designed for a single one-time use, most of us wear bicycle helmets because more than 50,000 riders are injured and 600 people are killed annually in the United States alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.

I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit to a preference for riding a bike without a helmet because I love feeling the fresh air on my face, not having a clip underneath my chin, those adjustable straps along the side of my head, and helmet head hairdo when I get off my bike.  A bicycle helmet is also hard to carry around for those who use bicycles as a form of transportation. So, when I heard that two women from Sweden invented an Invisible Bike Helmet called the Hövding, I was more than interested.

42378-2-casco-inflable-e-invisible-para-ciclistas-checaloHövding is a collar for bicyclists that is worn around the neck. The collar is the visible part of the helmet and is covered by a removable shell. Inside is a folded up airbag that – when inflated – is shaped like a hood surrounding and protecting the bicyclist’s head if the cyclist has an accident.  The airbag consists of an inner and an outer hood, attached together by straps. The airbag is made of an ultra-strong nylon fabric that won’t rip when scraped against asphalt. The way the hood is designed and folded into the collar ensures that it will inflate quickly and safely. Click here to watch a 50 second video.

Invisible-Helmet-Hovding-1The trigger mechanism is controlled by sensors which pick up abnormal movements of a cyclist in an accident. It takes about 0.1 seconds to inflate and the airbag will be fully inflated before head impact. Hövding protects nearly all of the head while leaving the field of vision open. To see a live crash, click here or here.  To see a bicycle and car collision, click here.

The protective area is designed according to current accident statistics, and the protection is greatest where it is needed most. 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.

invisible-bicycle-helmet-3The idea of an invisible helmet was born of Anna Haupt and Therese Alstin, two design students working on their masters at Lund University in Sweden in 2005. Sparked by a new proposed Swedish law that required bicycle helmets to be compulsory for all riders, Anna and Therese decided to make a helmet that would be comfortable, attractive, and easily transportable so that adults would choose to wear a helmet, rather than have the government tell them they had to wear a helmet. Knowing they were on to something truly innovative, Anna and Theresa secured grants, venture capital, patent attorneys and set to work with software engineers, stunt riders, crash test agencies, professors, and surgeons to develop the invisible helmet.

Eight years later (click here to watch a video summary from the company) and the Invisible Helmet is a reality in Europe. Approved by the EU and in Switzerland, the helmet is sold throughout the EU for 299 euros or about $400. Given that a really good bicycle hard helmet costs about $200, the Hövding is expensive and the company is currently focused on bringing the costs down to make the helmet more affordable. Not yet approved for use in the United States, the Hövding is currently being evaluated and expected to be available in the United States by 2015.

invisible-helmet2For those in the US intent on having a Hövding before 2015, a trip to one of the EU countries or Switzerland is necessary. A Hövding can be purchased on-line through the company’s website but payment has to be with a European based Visa or MasterCard. The helmet can be shipped throughout the EU but cannot be shipped back to the US via mail, in a suitcase or carry-on because approval for this product aboard a commercial airliner is not available until January, 2015.  The only way to get an invisible helmet back to the US legally is via ship so only those on a roundtrip cruise to Europe may return to the US with a Hövding.  Almost makes me want to book a cruise to Sweden, Norway, or Denmark where the Hövding is widely available at retail outlets.

Innovative, protective, and setting a new standard, the Hövding provides superior shock absorption and protects more of the head to provide safety in multiple impacts. I can’t wait.

For a complete list of retailers in the EU, click here.

Update: April, 2014:  To see the most recent safety study and the surprising difference between the Invisible Helmet and hard helmets, click here.

Update: March, 2015:  Still waiting. The TSA has not approved the helmet to be on carry-on or in luggage on air transportation.

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