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Innovation Works

This Invention Could Save Your Life

A new invisible bike helmet could revolutize the way people move. But it's got a steep climb to commercial success in the United States.

(Hövding)

photo of Matt  Berman
November 15, 2013

It looks like a trashbag coming out of a finely-patterned neck-pillow. But if you find yourself colliding with a Volvo on your bike, it could actually save your life.

Meet Hövding, the invisible bike helmet. It's a real, actual thing. But it won't be so easy for it to come to market in the United States.

Here's a three-minute documentary about the Swedish helmet and its founders:

 

Bicycle injuries are obviously serious business. The 677 cycling deaths in 2011 (the last year for which there's data) made up 2 percent of all motor-vehicle traffic deaths. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 48,000 bikers were injured in crashes. At the same time, bike ridership has been on the rise in the United States.

And yes, helmets make a big difference. Helmet use reduces the risk of head injury by 85 percent, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But use isn't at all universal. The most recent government study in 1999 pegged helmet use at about 50 percent. And state laws that mandate helmet use, according to this map from IIHS, aren't really forcing anyone's hand:

Part of the issue with helmets comes down to a simple matter of clunkiness. Sure, making a bicycle helmet a bit less bulky and ugly won't necessarily save hundreds of lives. But the invisible helmet has the potential to help kick up the number of people who use helmets, and feel comfortable on a bike in general.

If the documentary above didn't convince you that a battery-powered helmet with sensors could save your head from a crash, check out this crash test video, which has been viewed nearly 2 million times on YouTube:

The helmet didn't just pass European inspection. It also succeeded in a test by a Swedish insurance company that went at higher maximum speeds than the European standards, and it performed better than 12 other more-standard bike helmets.

But there are a couple problems. First and foremost: government regulation.

The helmets are on sale right now in Sweden, but they can't legally be sold in the United States as a safety helmet until they pass the tests of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

(Hövding)The tests, which are known to be stricter than those in Europe, have a few obviously difficult elements for the invisible helmet. Many of the regulations have to do with the positioning of the helmet in different situations, which can be a bit confusing when the helmet is, you know, an airbag that comes out at the last minute.

The government isn't the only thing in the way. The helmets retail right now for €399, or just over $537. Without getting that price down, it's hard to imagine all that many people buying an invisible helmet, no matter the fashion appeal.

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