The motorcycle helmet of the future

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Think motorcycle helmets are stuck in the 20th century? One New York-based startup wants to change that, envisioning a product that would combine cutting edge safety technology with futuristic looks and performance benefits everywhere else too. The first step: eliminating styrofoam.

For nearly as long as motorcycle helmets have been around, they’ve relied on styrofoam liners housed within a deformable shell to absorb impact energy. Precisely tailored densities and thicknesses of styrofoam are what keeps your head safe right now. While decidedly low tech — you’re basically wearing a glorified coffee cup — styrofoam provides omnidirectional energy absorption that can be precisely tailored to reduce the forces of the kind of constant velocity impacts that are measured in labs and can easily be written into legislation. Basically, researchers can determine the most common impact forces that need to be protected against then then specify the thickness and density of styrofoam needed to cushion an average-weight-per-size head from that force. Problems arise when the impact is too gentle to deform the styrofoam or so violent it exceed the styfrofoam’s ability to ameliorate the forces. Because they rely on deformation, helmets are only capable of effectively absorbing the forces of a single impact; go bouncing down the road, hitting your head multiple times and your brain will turn to mush.

At the heart of Del Rosario’s design is a three-stage approach to absorbing impact forces that promises to be both smaller and lighter than the styrofoam equivalent. The first layer of protection are gel inserts intended to to eliminate vibrations and other small forces that current helmet technology utterly ignores. While these kinds of forces are unlikely to cause injury, they do cause fatigue and discomfort.

The second layer of protection is a multi-layered laminate liner. Capable of flexing, crushing and delaminating, this liner can deal with a wider range of forces than a traditional styrofoam liner, which can only crush. Through the controlled destruction of this layer, a lower level of force reaches the helmet’s main level of impact absorption.

A carbon frame of arched members composes the Del Rosario helmet’s main safety mechanism. Through the magical power of science, theses arches can be precisely tailored to flex or break in a predictable manner, coping with both high and low energy loads.

Del Rosario says those last two layers together are capable of absorbing impacts in the 60 to 100+ joule range, which compares favorably to the 60-80 joules that traditional styrofoam helmets can deal with.

Of course, you didn’t read this article because you go gaga over carbon members, you’re here because of the way these helmets look. Designed by John Del Rosario and other members of Gen Y, these helmets are the product of a childhood spent consuming a vision of the future shaped by movies like Akira, Blade Runner and Mad Max. Of course, the shape of the carbon/Kevlar shell has functional benefits too, the elongation mimics the form of a water droplet, the most aerodynamic shape in nature.

The colors share similar cultural influences. The yellow and black seen in the gallery below seems to be the poster child for the company and is based on Bruce Lee’s “The Game of Death,” which of course also influence the Kill Bill movies.

Del Rosario describes the look it’s going for as, “a clear departure from technical stiffness, coldness and rigidity.” Included is a pleasingly complex set of three dimensional details that add function and visual wonder without detracting from the simplicity of the overall shape. These are clearly helmets, just ones that haven’t before existed outside of your imagination. The company only relies on a single questionable  component to achieve its look: the graphics-printed visors. While these use an established microdot process to delivery vision from one side and cool colors from the other, they still represent a possible functional compromise to vision in low-light conditions. We’re pleased to see the presence of a retractable dark visor in at least one of these designs.

So what are the chances that we’ll ever be able to wear such helmets? Well, everything you see here is technology that’s currently feasible and Del Rosario seems have a solid plan for production and marketing. In addition to selling safer, cooler helmets, they hope such a product could also convince people who don’t currently wear helmets finally put one on. What they need to make this happen, of course, is money. With such a striking design, clear functional benefits and ambitious production and marketing plans, raising interest from investors should be simple. The world doesn’t work that way, but we’d kill to put one of these on our heads, surely some smart investors feel the same way.

Del Rosario

  • rgo
  • duncanbojangles

    Ohmigod I can’t wait to look like Boba Fett! (serious)

  • stickfigure

    Daft punk costumes are about to become the Borat of Halloween 2012.

    • vigor

      Thomas Bangalter is so proud

  • Emmet

    The design is a far departure from conventional helmet styling. There will definitely be criticism from the market as any such radical change does. The carbon frame, three stage layer- damn impressive.

    The technology is intriguing, reminds me of Motorcyclist’s article “Blowing the Lid Off,” and insight on the flaws of current helmet ratings. ‘Superior’ Snell rated helmets absorb higher crash impacts but not loads that are typical for a street crash scenario. In the Snell case, the helmet would save a rider’s noggin in a severe crash that would otherwise destroy the rest of their body. As for a milder fall, the helmet won’t appreciably absorb the impact, instead transferring more G’s to the rider. Ouch.

    What’s with the Mad Max reference? There’s no leather or shoulder pads…

  • Ben Branch

    This is fantastic. I only hope they charge less than $1,000 for them.

  • MikeD

    Looks like something a Gladiator would wear.
    I LIKE IT! Just for being different.

    • MikeD

      Oh yeah, i forgot to ask.
      Target Price on this thing?

      • Wes Siler

        It’s like $800-$1200 to start, with mid-range $400-500 products to follow if production numbers get high enough.

        • MikeD

          Is been said u can’t put a price on your Coconut’s value but at the risk of sounding like a Total No-Cares CheapAss i’ll say: That’s too HOT$$$$.
          ICON-me, please.

          • Beast Incarnate

            Mike – I’d encourage you to consider this: traditional helmets are recommended to be replaced every five years due to the degradation of the styrofoam liner. It seems that these helmets could go a great deal longer without any concern about replacement.

            If I could get 10+ years out of one and increased safety over anything out there, it’s a lot easier to justify the cost. Especially when that cost comes down as production theoretically ramps up.

            • MikeD

              U Sir…make valid points.Taken.

  • mugget

    Akira. Hells yeah!

    I will buy one of them – that’s a promise! Although I’m guessing that it’s gonna be a while before they get to Australia and get stickered with the appropriate standard to be legal here. But I will hold off any more helmet purchase until then…

  • ike6116

    I wear a clear visor and I notice myself making eye contact with car drivers, it makes me feel less like they are going to hit me, I dont know how one would do that in one of these. I think they definitely look cool and Im glad someone is trying to innovate but right now it looks very power ranger.

  • Mdynamic

    I love it! I would be more than willing to dish out 800 for one.

  • UrbanRider

    ‘Del Rosario seems have a solid plan for production’

    Wes, can you tell us a bit more about the production plans? Where are the pictures of prototypes, proof of concept and so on?

    Forgive me but my inner cynic is only seeing some nice renderings and some punchy statements on their website:

    ‘Most manufacturers share a common architecture with little to no distinction in style or shape between them. Only set apart by crude paint schemes and pricey add-ons.’

    ‘We are also the only brand to redesign the helmet by starting from a completely blank canvas, inside and out. Each design will have meaning and background.

    Our goal is to get this segment caught up to the rest of the industry and provide a product that will appeal to the individual rider. We will bridge the gap between modern avant-garde design and technological advances in safety tech.’

    Not a fan of the Ruby Pavillion or Givi Xplus Mr Del Rosario?

  • Pamberjack


  • pplassm

    You must have a clear face shield at night around here, or you get cited. So the cool graphics won’t cut it.

  • markbvt

    Cool tech, but man, those things are fugly. And yeah, some of us ride at night too and need clear shields.

  • cdsv

    I’m all for lighter and smaller though they may want to bridge the gap between conventional styles and these concepts if they want to get their production numbers up.

    I do just want to point out that if your head is subjected to a 100+j impact, your brain is probably jelly and you’re likely missing a few limbs.

  • Mark D

    That really is an amazing design. I always wondered why helmets didn’t have more of a tadpole design to them; pedal bike helmets have been designed like that for years.

    If they actually can last for 10+ years, $800 is a steal for that. Color match one of those with a Z1000, and you are ready to take on Neo-Tokyo.

  • RanDryRacer

    Eye glasses can change shade from dark to light, I wonder if the same technology can be used here.
    Also I hope areodynamics equates to a big reduction in wind noise, my biggest complaint about current lids.

  • slowestGSXRever

    Is it just me, or does it appear that the helmet doesn’t cover down the back of your head by your neck? Maybe that’s just because the front of the helmet is so darn big?

    Reminds me of:

  • pdub

    Don’t care what it looks like as long as protection tech moves forward. Is this just in the computer model/FEA phase? If so then it can join the legions of other industrial design student projects that will never make it out of the laptop. This looks like some ambitious concepts and hope to see similar ambitious moves to follow. Like to see how real world prototypes perform in real world abuse and operator ergos/comfort. Again, don’t care what it looks like if it’s an improvement as long as it doesn’t come out looking like the head of a penis, unless of course there’s some real world benefit of that. I would just have to get used to it then.

    Irrelevant note: Akira, Blade Runner, and Mad Max are all solidly GenX touchstones. Sorry, GenY were still soiling diapers when they came out. Mad Max among those being on the early side of GenX and the non letter assigned demographic age group preceding them as Game of Death is definitely pre Gen X even. Again GenY defining itself by appropriating nostalgia they never experienced in the first place. GenY needs to start coming up with it’s own shit or at least reasonably unique renditions. Then again they have Youtube, iGadgets, and now, maybe this helmet.

    • Random

      Safe riding needs and iHelmet? :)

    • Wes Siler

      They’re getting real life prototypes made as we speak. More on that soon.

  • sbraman

    I’m hoping they actually come out with a real product, as for the price…an Arai with nothing more than limited edition graphics is $900.00, and the run of the mill stuff now tops $700.00, Shoei X-12 lists out at 900.00…. so paying $900 for this and it lasts longer and is safer…. not even a moment of hesitation.
    Not to sure on the shield idea, doesn’t that microdot stuff have 100′s of little openings, seems that would get full of bug guts real fast and eventually start to tear….as it’s an adhesive. straight silver or dark smoke options look really good. Either way I’d be in line to buy one, they claim to be in production by early fall 2011… here’s hoping they get some investors with balls!

  • 5280 CB500T

    I welcome the new helmets, but I’d really like to see manufacturers offer a range of helmets in extended-range sizes. I currently wear a 5X Vega helmet. That is the ONLY option I could find. I realize that not everyone needs a bucket that size, but there are still many of us who do. I’m almost to the point that I don’t care what a helmet looks like; if I can get it to fit my dome, I’ll buy it.

  • parrell456

    That. Looks. Amazing.

    For the most important piece of gear a rider needs, the helmet sure hasn’t changed much in design or construction, no? I applaud these guys for wanting to break the mould and make a better, safer helmet! Plus it doesn’t hurt that it LOOKS like it belongs on modern riders to boot! One for me, please!

  • roccopeterbilt

    Smaller helmets with more protection sounds great. Did it mention a projected weight? Gel padding seems like it would get heavy. I understand the teardrop-esque shape, but the way the ‘tail’ protrudes seams like it would have a tendency to injure necks when riders end up on their backs. Oh, and +1 to stickfigure…these guys need to keep Daft Punk outta the spray booth

  • Beast Incarnate

    In all the pizzaz over the looks, I didn’t even realize that there’s no chin/mouth venting. For all of the vents on my Arai Corsair, none seems to make so great an impact on airflow as the one right beneath the visor. Sadly, in Texas, I can’t live without gobs of ventilation.

    Due to the shape of the visor, it’s hard to see how they’d even do it. Unless the visor would implement a ‘partially open’ setting without compromising clarity.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the ideas here and I like the looks. I’m just concerned about the practicality.

  • Core

    The technology on protecting your noggin sounds cool, and the design makes you look all super hero, its win win.