Friday, June 6, 2014

2014 EPO Patent Award nominations! Inflatable bike helmet

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

Just visualize a balaclava-shaped airbag inflating all around your head and neck in case of a biking accident, and you will have touched just the surface of this invention candidate at the upcoming 2014 European Patent awards, to be held in Berlin on June 17.  In the disproportionately masculine world of patents, the inventors of patent EP 1947966 titled System and method for protecting a bodypart are two young Swedish female industrial designers: Terese Alstin and Anna Haupt.  

The inflatable bike helmet called the Hövding was developed in an effort to resolve both the stylistic and functional disadvantages of the  prior art in biking helmets, and consequently, the fact that only 5 to 20 % of European bikers ever wear helmets, essentially because they are considered both uncomfortable and/or unsightly. When surveyed, the inventors found that what bikers really want is a helmet that is mostly invisible (!)…

Functionally, prior art bike helmets do not offer protection for the jaw, back of the neck, ear and neck in case of collision with a sharp object. And mostly, all prior art helmets, made of “unrealistically hard material” (EPU – expanded polyurethane & EPS – expanded polystyrene) do not absorb the forces impact, which results in brain injury, even if the head is un-scathed.  Additionally, prior art helmets do not offer protection from the cold, and they are both bulky and cumbersome to haul around when not riding, or to secure any other place than on the biker’s head.

In response to this set of concerns, and the unquestionable advantages of wearing a helmet in terms of biking safety and the prevention of head injuries estimated at 60% for bikers who wear helmets, this invention is actually a helmet unlike what you would ever imagine.

Un-inflated (in the above picture) the helmet is indeed invisible appearing like a very fashionable scarf worn as a collar that zips around your neck. Inside the collar, however, there is a black box control unit equipped with sensors that scan your body motion 200 times per second.  The proprietary algorithm included in the black box detects body motion (acceleration, direction and movement) and compares it to data on normal biking movements. When the slightest discrepancy in normal biking movement arises, the helium gas generator is triggered, and the airbags inflate in 1/10 of a second, prior to impact.
In many cases, the documented and reported results of a crash with the Hövding amount to a life saved, as the black box is actually sent back to the company after a crash for analysis of the valuable impact data.

Below you will find the Abstract of EP 1947966 titled System and method for protecting a bodypart and one of the patent drawings:

“A system and a method for protecting the head of a user in case of an abnormal movement, such as a fall or a collision. The system comprises an apparel (1) , an airbag (2) , an inflator (3) , and a trigger. The airbag includes a first part (7) for surrounding the neck and back head portion of the user after inflation, and a second part (8) for forming a hood surrounding the skull of the user after inflation. The first part (7) and second part (8) are folded and arranged in the apparel (1) before inflation. The apparel is arranged around the neck of the user, like for example a collar or a scarf”.

 Beyond saving the lives of bikers, there are potential uses anticipated for skiing and extreme sports, and even for people suffering from epilepsy. So keep an eye out for when the Hövding hits the US market in 2016---this is a very stylish, and 3 x safer “invisible” helmet, which you might consider using, at least initially for when you are riding your bike. This is for the Biking Coalition too!

In the YouYube clip below, you will hear the story of the Hövding in the inventors own words:


Good Luck on June 17! And, in any event, congratulations on this 2014 nomination to the EPO awards!
Reference (since 2011 and for answers to all your additional questions: Can children wear the Hövding? Can you re-use it once it has deployed?.. etc.)

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