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Boffins turn to supercomputers to design a better helmet

Standard design "fails to offer adequate protection during ‘oblique’ impacts" says researcher...

Unimpressed with standard bike helmets, academics from Cardiff University are using supercomputer technology to try and design a better skidlid.

Dr. Peter Theobald and Dr. Philip Martin of the School of Engineering at Cardiff are researching ways that 3D printing can be used to make ultra-lightweight customised helmets that better absorb impacts.

“It is scary how similar traditional bicycle safety helmets on the market actually are,” said Dr Martin. “If you went into a helmet shop with an unlimited sum of money, you would come out with essentially the same thing, in regards to safety, as there is no superior product.

"The only real differences are in shape, colour and design – merely aesthetics. Everything is made out of polystyrene, which fails to offer adequate protection during ‘oblique’ impacts.”

To find out what other materials could be used,the researchers are using supercomputing to optimise the mechanical structures of 3D printed bicycle safety helmet designs, comparing the effects of different designs and 3D printed materials on impact performance.

A focus of the research is protecting the head against rotational impacts. Recent research suggests that standard helmets provide little or no protection against rotational forces, which are a source of the intra-cranial bleeding that characterises the most serious head injuries.

To help prevent such injuries, the researchers are trying to design a helmet that will slow or stop transfer of energy to the head. Allowing the brain and the skull to keep moving, and being slowed down in tandem, is believed to reduce the risk of brain injuries after collisions.

They hope that their research will lead to improved helmet standards that address rotational impacts as well as the direct impacts taken into account in current guidelines.

Dr Martin and Dr Theobald are being supported by the High Performance Computing Wales’ Research and Innovation fund and say that without advanced supercomputing power their research would be impractically expensive and time-consuming.

Dr Martin said: "Without these supercomputing capabilities, we would have to physically manufacture every new structural design, and then test every single one of them in a lab, to evaluate their impact safety performance potential. This would be both extremely time and cost intensive, rendering the project unfeasible."

Let's hope that what they come up with looks better than the Smart Hat we reported yesterday.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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