No matter how stylish, bicycle helmets have the nasty habit of mussing up hair while making you look like a dork. That often keeps cyclists from wearing helmets altogether--a habit that prompted Swedish designers Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin to design Hövding ("Chieftain"), a bike helmet that doesn't look much like a helmet at all.
Chieftain, which has been in development for the past six years, is actually a collar containing a folded airbag. Before an accident, an accelerometer and gyro register abnormal head movement, and trigger "gas-generators" that fill the airbag. And presto! Your noggin is safely swaddled in a mere .1 seconds. (Fashion-wise, the airbag is removable, and can be placed inside a variety of collars.)
So what counts as normal versus abnormal movement? Would you turn your head suddenly to find your face surrounded in a nylon airbag? No, according to the inventors. The six years were largely spend modeling every conceivable type of bike accident, even fatal ones, and then modeling these in the software connected to the sensors. Thus, swerving while riding, unlocking your bike, and even running down stairs won't trigger the airbag, but flying over your handlebars should.
Meanwhile, to make sure that you have enough power to run the sensors, there are six tiny LED's hidden in the front of the collar, indicating battery charge. When it's low, you can connect the collar to a USB. The benefit of that is that the software automatically updates, as the engineers perfect it. (There's actually a "black box" recording data ten seconds of data before and after an accident, which in the future will allow the engineers to create more and more accurate models.)
Will people actually trust this thing? It's the complete antithesis of the hard-shelled helmets that cyclists have become used to, and we can't imagine that it's very comfortable on hot days. We'll find out soon enough--Hövding will be released in 2011. No word yet on pricing.
[Hat tip: David Report]