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Swedish company unveils airbag cycle helmet (+ video)

Device aims to overcome barriers to helmet use among image-conscious adults

A Swedish company has developed an airbag bicycle helmet designed to deploy quickly to protect a bike rider’s head in the case of an accident, while seeking to overcome resistance to helmet use by providing what is billed as a stylish accessory aimed at the fashion-conscious.

Called the Hövding – the name means 'chieftain' in Swedish – the airbag is housed in a collar worn around the cyclist’s neck that comes in a variety of colours and can separated from the airbag and washed.

The video below shows the helmet deploying in a variety of situations, but with the top speed of the collisions shown being just 20kph – that’s in the first one, in which the cyclist is hit from behind by a car – you do wonder whether it can react quickly enough at higher speeds.

According to the eponymous company that has developed the device, 40 cyclists are killed in Sweden each year with a further 30,000 injured, and one in three of those fatalities involves head injuries.

While helmets are compulsory for children aged under 15, there’s a heated debate taking place at the moment about whether that legislation should be extended to all cyclists.

Although it doesn’t cite statistics regarding helmet use, the company says that among commuters and everyday cyclists, barriers include the fact that most helmets on the market have too sporty a look.

It adds that that “many choose not to wear a helmet because it is considered uncool and doesn’t fit with their personal style.”

The airbag helmet has its origins in a joint thesis by industrial design students Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin at Lund University in 2005, the same year helmet compulsion was introduced for the under-15s.

The concept reeived an Innovationsbrons (‘innovation bridge’) prize, which enabled the pair to start working on turning the idea into an actual product, and in 2006 they won the Venture Cup together with a grant of SEK200,000 which enabled them to set up the company.

The following year, work began on developing a system that could “identify cyclists’ specific movement patterns in an accident and determine when the sensors will trigger the air bag,” with hundreds of accidents staged with the help of professional stunt performers and crash test dummies.

They also worked with Ulf Björnstig professor and surgeon at Umeå University Hospital and a specialist in cyclists’ head injuries to understand the the specific nature of cycling accidents.

They also undertook testing on the road to identify everyday situations where the airbag should not deploy such as picking up keys or running downstairs, as well as normal bike riding.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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