Eight years ago, two Swedish women looked at the world of bike helmets, found it lacking and decided to do something about it.
The women, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, were industrial grad students at Lund University and over the next several years they invented Hövding, the invisible bike helmet. The "helmet," which has won an array of awards, is actually a kind of scarf-like collar worn around the neck that zips into place. On most rides, that’s all the device is, but in the case of an accident it deploys a nylon airbag that almost entirely encompasses the cyclist’s head.
The airbag-helmet gained international recognition when it was featured last year in a short film on Vimeo and recently received a viral bump in the U.S. after cycling bloggers began sharing it.
Haupt and Alstin explain on their website that they designed the device in response to a Swedish law requiring all children 15 or younger to wear helmets. In response, they set out to create something that "people would be happy to wear — whether they had to or not," which is clearly not the case for many people when it comes to traditional helmets.
The women eventually raised $10 million in venture capital and new operate a company of 17 people.
The device uses an algorithm to determine what kind of movement should set it off. Haupt and Alstin spent years studying and staging bicycle crashes so they could understand that movement and now cyclists can bend over or run up steps without deploying the airbag. Their website does warn, however, that helmet won’t protect people from something unexpectedly dropping on their heads.
The device also uses durable nylon that shouldn’t tear on impact, charges via USB and has interchangeable fabric shells to match different outfits.
The biggest downside to the Hövding is that it’s currently only available in Europe. The company has retailers in Scandinavia and Germany and ships to most of the rest of the continent, but if you want one in the United States, you’ll need to have it shipped to your European friend’s house.
It also costs 399 Euros, though apparently in Europe some insurance companies may help cover the cost of a new one if yours deploys.
Still, it’s an exciting development for the bike helmet world, which is only getting more contentious as bikes become ubiquitous in American cities. Perhaps this new airbag-helmet can help diffuse some of the arguments over bike helmets while saving lives in the process.
— Jim Dalrymple II
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