POC is working on cycling helmets fitted with airbags 

When it comes to safety-focused technology, you could argue there’s always room for improvement. And so while modern cycling helmets are extremely good at reducing the risk of head trauma based on common crash situations, there’s still plenty of scope for furthering safety in unpredictable circumstances, especially when higher speeds and a second vehicle are involved.

As one of the more safety-conscious protection companies, POC recently partnered with Autoliv, a leader in automotive safety systems. That partnership sought to study and develop cycling helmets equipped with airbags.

The goal of the airbag would be to act the initial energy absorber with the surround of the helmet as playing its usual role. The early pre-study concluded that having an airbag could reduce the peak linear head acceleration (especially in linear impacts) and significantly reduce head trauma risk. And the use of an airbag could achieve such safety benefits without criticality compromising other important design factors of a helmet, such as weight and comfort.

“The resulting concept was an airbag consisting of three fabric channels hidden in the helmet during normal use,” explains the pre-study document from Autoliv. “In a crash, the channels were expanded covering the sides and top of the head and pressed to approximately 60 kPa. When the usual airbag acts as the initial energy absorber while the underlying helmet may still contribute in the usual way.

“The combination of both absorbing technologies enables a reduction of the head acceleration and significantly reduced head injury risk in impact tests. Targets such as having a low mass, good coverage, and not being visible during normal use were fulfilled with this airbag design.”

Autoliv and POC developed the initial concepts through the use of simulation tools and conducted physical crash tests.

According to the pre-study, it is estimated that the risk of a cyclist sustaining moderate (eg mild concussion) to fatal head injuries is reduced from 80% to 30% in a 20 km/h (12 mph) impact when using an airbag -equipped helmet over a traditional one.

The use of airbags for cycling safety isn’t a new concept and a small number of commercial products already exist. Perhaps the best example is from another Swedish company Hövding, which sells a neck-worn airbag that’s designed to replace the need for a traditional helmet by inflating an airbag over the cyclist’s head before the point of impact. More recently we saw Evoc release a backpack-based airbag system.

From POC’s point of view, the pre-study into helmets fitted with airbags provided enough positive outcomes to justify further testing and refinement of the concept that could potentially be brought to market. Assuming this one comes to fruition, it sounds like it’s still a few years away, and it’s expected we’ll see the e-bike market benefit from such a safety concept well before the competitive side of cycling does.

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