A safer paper-based (!) bike helmet

Anna Lacey, reporter for the BBC Health Check, notes that the basic idea behind cycle helmets is to create a mini crumple zone to absorb some of the impact energy and give your skull and brain more time to slow down before coming to a stop. Those extra few milliseconds can reduce the amount of compression in the brain and potentially make the difference between brain damage and a mild case of concussion. Most helmets are now made of polystyrene but a safety engineeer, Anirudha Surabhi, in London wasn’t convinced it’s the best choice. He looked to the natural world for inspiration and noted that the woodpecker  pecks at about ten times per second and each peck involves the same amount of force as crashing at 50 miles per hour. “It’s the only bird in the world where the skull and the beak are completely disjointed, and there’s a soft corrugated cartilage in the middle that absorbs all the impact and stops it from getting a headache.”  To mimic the woodpecker’s crumple zone, Anirudha turned to a cheap and easily accessible source – paper and engineered it into a double-layer of honeycomb that could then be cut and constructed into a functioning helmet. “What you end up with is tiny little airbags throughout the helmet,” he says. “So when you have a crash, what these airbags do is they go pop, pop, pop, pop, pop – and they go all the way to the bottom, without the helmet cracking. That’s what absorbs the energy. ” The paper design has been tested to European standards, and when compared to a standard polystyrene helmet, the results are impressive.  

  “If you crash at 15 miles per hour in a normal helmet, your head will be subjected to around 220G [G-force], whereas the new design absorbs more of the impact and means you experience around 70G instead,” says Surabhi. To put that into context, international safety standards recognise that to avoid serious brain damage, a person must not be exposed to impact forces above 300G. This means that while a polystyrene helmet helps you to avoid fatal or serious head injury, the paper helmet will give your head more time to slow down and potentially lower the risk of even less serious injuries like concussion. Anirudha’s paper helmet is already in the shops. Among his new ideas is a flat-pack version suitable for cyclists use by  city bike hire schemes. Of course, debate still rages over whether helmets really help protect cyclists at all – with arguments ranging from the ineffectiveness of polystyrene to the mere act of wearing a helmet encouraging cyclists to take more risks and drivers to be less cautious. But an independent review by the Transport Research Laboratory in 2009 found that assuming they are worn correctly, cycle helmets should be effective. Still, wearing cycle helmets is not compulsory in the UK.

 Authors note: This was recently brought to my attention by one of our sons. When I googled the inventor I discovered that Ani Surabhi Rao is head of Design at Kranium Designs, a London based company created by owner Brian Krane to serve as a test site for new designs and as a resume. Surabhi writes, “I am actively involved in designing and bringing designs to production which involves rapid brain storming, 3d development, design thinking and material led innovation.” If you have any doubts about this near-miracle, marketed as Kranium Revolution (L80 or $129), go to this link, http://anirao.com/videos.php, and then click on Kranium Demo and the ‘waterproof’ video as well. I am, as you may be able to tell, gob-smacked!! And, no, I get no commissions, darn it!

 PS.. for the record, we blogged about the woodpecker mystery previously!




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