If you like the wind in your hair, but prefer your brains in your skull, this could be the gadget for you. Developed in Sweden, the Hövding device claims to revolutionise the way we think about road safety for proponents of the pushbike. According to their website, the Hövding is ‘not only one of the safest helmets on the market, but also a discreet chameleon that easily becomes part of your outfit using the changeable shell’. Discreet chameleon? Part of your outfit? What on earth kind of helmet is this?
Well, the fact is, it’s not really a helmet at all, but rather a collar worn around the neck of the rider. There are sensors in the collar that measure the various movements of a cyclist and in the event of an accident an airbag is triggered, inflating a high-strength nylon hood which encases and protects the head from damage. Although it looks like our post-crash cyclist is being groomed by a giant Mickey Mouse hand, evidently the more appealing aspect of this device is that when you are not in the process of crashing you are free to display your perfectly coiffed hairdo along the cycle paths. Rather than simply coming up with a safer bicycle helmet, this is more about having one that doesn’t look so silly, while also not leaving you with a sweaty case of ‘helmet hair’. The fashionable pull of the changeable shell to match with your daily garb, further reinforces that this piece has style as well as substance.
Designers Terese Alstin and Anna Haupt began work on the device in 2005 while studying Industrial Design at Sweden’s prestigious University of Lund. “It’s a lot about vanity,” Haupt explains. “[Cyclists] feel geeky, it distorts their hair, they are bulky to bring and so on. And so we understood that we needed to really think new if we wanted to solve the problem.”
So, over the next seven years of testing and refining, eventually the Hövding emerged. The in-built computer monitors the subtle movements of a cyclist over 200 times a second, while any movement that matches up with their exhaustive records of what happens in a bike crash will trigger the gas canister, inflating the hood within one tenth of a second. Furthermore, a record of the movement patterns during the crash is saved to its ‘black box’ providing more data to constantly perfect the machine.
“Airbag technology absorbs the shock from an impact in a much more efficient way than conventional helmets can do,” Haupt says. “That’s the biggest advantage that you have; an efficient shock absorbent capacity so that your skull and brain becomes much more protected in an impact. You can have multiple hits in one accident and the Hövding can handle them all because it stays inflated for a few seconds and it protects much larger areas of the head than conventional helmets can do.”
Costing a whopping EUR 399, it’s definitely not a budget option, but although it cannot be reused after it has deployed, distributors are to have sufficient insurance to provide replacements at no extra cost, resulting in a sort of ‘helmet for life’. However, working with algorithms and movement sensors, it won’t be able to save you from a piano falling on your head.