The Hövding isn’t a bike helmet so much as an inflatable airbag for your head.

The collar is equipped with gyrometers and accelerometers that sense when you’re in a collision and deploy a full-head cushion in just a tenth of a second.

A recent study by an independent agency found it provided more protection than most conventional helmets.

Still, some might balk at a $600 helmet that’s only good for one deployment.

The Hövding being modeled by a guy who bears a striking resemblance to Dennis from Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

You can purchase additional covers for the collar separately.

Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, who conceived of the "invisible helmet" in 2005 as a masters thesis project, say they "wouldn’t be seen dead in a polystyrene helmet."

It might not give you peace of mind, but it will definitely do away with helmet hair.

After 7 years of development, the helmet’s now for sale.

The Hövding, A $600 Air Bag For Your Head, Is For Sale

The gadget’s main lure is that it rids you of the embarrassment of a bike helmet, but tests have also shown it to be remarkably effective.

If we have any chance at weaning ourselves off of the dead dinosaur juice that fuels our planet, sustainable transportation, like bicycles, are going to have to be part of the solution. In fact, cities like Copenhagen have already toward a model in which bikes, not cars, rule the road; on the bike highways there, 68% of adults ride their bikes at least once a week and 55% of children cycle to school on a regular basis. The latter statistic is particularly heartening. But as bikes become an increasingly integral part of our green future, bike safety must be considered as well. A biking revolution invites us to think about a correlated upheaval: a revolutionary bike helmet.

That’s one way to think of the Hövding, which isn’t a helmet so much as a wearable airbag for your melon. We featured the Hövding in 2010 when it was in the concept stage, but unlike many of the too-wacky-for-the-real-world industrial design concepts you see on the Internet, this one is now something you can actually buy.

To recap: Hövding was conceived in 2005 as a masters thesis project by two students at the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University in Sweden. Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, two women who say they "wouldn’t be seen dead in a polystyrene helmet," surveyed their friends for qualities they desired in a futuristic bike helmet, and when one acquaintance said he yearned for "invisible" protection, the lightbulb went off and the Hövding was born. The idea was that an air bag could be built into a collar to be worn inconspicuously around a cyclist’s neck, like a scarf. It would be fitted with sensors that could detect when an accident was taking place and inflate the collar in time to prevent damage to the head and spine.

Haupt and Alstin’s concept garnered a good deal attention, and in 2006 it won the Venture Cup startup competition--along with a cash prize to help facilitate its production as a real product. Then came the hard stuff: figuring out how to make sure it could save lives.

Ulf Björnstig, a professor and surgeon at Sweden’s Umeå University Hospital and an expert in cycling-related injuries, was enlisted to head the effort. His team compiled an encyclopedic database of the types of accidents cyclists face and then re-enacted those collisions with dummies and stunt riders from the Swedish Stunt Group. Alva Sweden, an airbag manufacturer, was charged with the development of the inflatable device itself.

The finished product uses a series of accelerometers and gyrometers to distinguish between "normal movements" and "abnormal movements"--basically whether the wearer is getting sideswiped by a car or is just bending over to roll up their pant leg. In the event of an accident, a small inflator positioned on the back of the rider’s neck pumps helium into a nylon hood, built to withstand contact with the asphalt or other surfaces. After detecting abnormal movement, it takes the Hövding just a tenth of a second to inflate.

Now, after seven years of development, the Hövding 1.0 is available to protect your own noggin. The Technical Research Institute of Sweden ran all the requisite safety tests on the inflatable helmet, and in October of last year it was officially awarded its CE certification, marking its compliance with a number of safety and performance standards required for all helmets sold in the European Union. Earlier this year, a limited run of the helmet was subject to a recall after a flaw was found with the collar’s zipper, but the team addressed the issue, and this summer an independent safety test found the helmet to be among the safest available, in terms of the g-forces a rider experiences during a collision (Co.Design waited to run this news on the helmet’s wide release until we confirmed the zipper issue had been solved).

The Hövding comes in two sizes, Small and Medium, and sells for 3998 SEK--around $600. Extra shells can be purchased for $75 and swapped in to give the collar a different look. The whole setup runs off an on-board battery, and charging is taken care of via a micro USB port. The Hövding team says the collar works fine with ponytails, bobs, baseball caps, headphones, and a good deal of other cuts and accessories. Heavy dreadlocks, however, have been deemed incompatible. One salient detail: The airbag cannot be re-inflated in the event of an accident--each Hövding is only good for one collision.

Is a $600 one-time-use inflatable bicycle helmet for everyone? Definitely not. But bikes are good, and bike safety is good, and while I don’t mind my $12 Supercut getting mussed a bit by a regular old hard-shell helmet, if this saves one well-coiffed Scandinavian cyclist’s life, then it’s a good idea. As Haupt and Alstin say, "a helmet that just sits on the shelf is no good to anyone."

Find out more about the Hövding on the company’s page.

Add New Comment

12 Comments

  • Ed

    I may have to start offering them for our Glide Bikes www.balancebikes.com no way a kid will get hurt wearing this! The Mini Glider is $99 and only  $599 for piece mind your kids head will be safe.

  • Robertjan Kuijten

    Interesting testing. But only to head injury. What kind of head injury? Just a scratch on the skull? Or brain damage? And could the brain damage have been avoided by -not- wearing a helmet and thereby -not- hit an obstacle?
    I mean, there are obvious cases when to wear a helmet. Especially when there are so many obstacles to be hit (mountain biking) at lower speeds. No doubt, I wear a helmet then as well. Especially because I usually use the SPD-system then (very little time to respond to hazards). But there are so many circumstances a helmet wouldn't provide sufficient protection or even worse: make cycling unsafer!

    The first case is going downhill on a road with high speeds. The CE-testing (in Europe) only tells if a helmet would provide protection when standing still. The 20 km/h (~12 mph) impact force is already reached when falling onto the ground from a stationary position. Would one be cycling at -any- speed, the test doesn't provide any clue. We can only trust the manufacturers and hope the helmet protects also at higher speeds. Well, I trust no manufacturer, because protection at higher speeds only adds to the price of the helmet, after which it's not competitive anymore! There is no independent, standardized test to which cycling helmets have to comply, that actually tells anything about the safety WHEN CYCLING...! Now think about that.

    Then the second case a helmet would not help, quite the contrary, is when cycling in flat, non-urban terrain with normal (no clipless) pedals (i.e. recreational cycling in the countryside). The speeds aren't that high (~25 km/h / 15 mph?), but there are a few factors to consider. First there's usually the absence of many obstacles, second there's the option of kicking the bike from underneath in a reflex when one appears to fall, and third the speed is slow (more time to react). -If- there's an obstacle ahead chances are that with a helmet one would try to avoid the obstacle with the head, but instead hit the obstacle with the helmet, causing brain damage and serious neck injury with a possible death or lifelong paralysis to follow. Without a helmet one would avoid hitting the obstacle with the head and badly hurt the underarm, hands, elbow, etc. What would you rather live without for the rest of your life? Your arm? Or any way of moving your own ass around the planet because you're in a wheelchair for the rest of your life? I know what I would choose.

    So to recap this article
    This Hövding is a very expensive thing to wear, providing hardly sufficient protection to a shortcoming test and too little protection to real-life tests a Swedish insurance company conducted. Yeah, I'm convinced.

  • klach47

    Well what about sharp objects,they are the ones that cause the maximum damage.

  • Jimbo Jim

    if u can drop 6 bills for a helmet then u're not hurting too much financially.
    i much rather wear something solid over my head, 
    I came off bike twice, 1st time I hard a good one, the strap was ripped off, if i didn't wore one i wouldnt be here.

    these helmet doesnt help u if a ball or any flying object hits u?
    they only activate when u suddenly go fast. 

  • RobertD

    Is the impact pretection afforded by this concept better, worse, or the same as a conventional helmet?

  • Arman Nobari

    Still looks like there was significant force applied to the head upon impact.. Thicken the materials, add more air pressure, and I think this is a great idea.

    I wonder if it would still work in extreme sports applications, where the time between loss of control and impact is much less than a full 210-degree frontal rotation from what appeared to be a recreation of the bike hitting a horizontal pole.. For example, if a guy was on a bike (or skateboard for that matter) and lost control while grinding on a rail. Would this device sense an "any-angle" loss of control, such as if the rider's orientation was to fall backwards even while momentum was forward?

  • Theta9

    It's an interesting concept. I am all for looking for alternate forms of protection. However, this is going to get someone killed. There is no way to be sure that it will inflate at the right moment, if at all.

    On a bike there are many forms of head injuries you can acquire even while wearing a helmet. Just freaking wear a helmet. But the fact is that a helmet provides constant dependable protection. This "helmet" does not.
    If you ask me, head injury and death, are much more inconvenient than carrying around a regular helmet.

  • Annonomous

     I agree, it reminds me of the Soccer head wrap that was supposed to protect people from concussions, but on the contrary, it contributed to more concussions, because it didn't work and people thought they were safe.

  • James_Newman

    They're on to something, the Dainese d-air suits for motorcyclists are similar but just for cervical protection. They double the price of a set of race leathers but they are re-useable. I would certainly go for something like this over a plastic helmet where helmet use is compulsory but it has to be re-useable otherwise its a no starter commercially, especially at that price.

    @ simon field Zero justification...really? you've never met anyone who's had a brain injury from hitting their head on tarmac at 50km/h then? and Zero practicality? seem more practical than a sweaty, hearing reducing, inconventient to carry polystyrene helmet to me.

  • Simon Field

    This has to be one of the most moronic design items I've ever seen.

    Zero justification, zero practicality. If these people got a masters then it must have been hella easy.