Why We Should Care About The Hövding

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Why We Should Care About The Hövding

While airbag technology for motorcyclists has not reached the economic potential for mass consumption, wearable airbag technology is beginning to appear in consumer’s hands elsewhere. The Hövding, a inflatable bicycle helmet invented by a couple of Swedish Industrial Design Engineers, points towards further expansion of this technology. This is a good thing for motorcyclists because it points towards growth and innovation of a technological solution that is still in infancy. Could this be the start of more affordable airbags for everyone?

Why We Should Care About The Hövding
The Hövding “invisible helmet”

Anna Haupt and Terise Alstin are co-founders of Hövding, a company based in Sweden that is developing airbag safety products for bicyclists and eventually maybe even motorcyclists. Initial research started in 2005 as the founders’ Master thesis, which spurred into a phase of further development for the following seven years. The product has been on sale since summer of 2012.

The Hövding is marketed as an “invisible helmet,” but is actually a rapidly deploying, wearable airbag that takes the form of a protective helmet as it inflates. I got a chance to interview Anna recently; she was quick to point out the benefits of an air bag helmet: “Hövding is more than three times better in shock absorbance capacity than traditional helmets. Airbag technology protects the brain much better than conventional helmets.”

Why We Should Care About The Hövding
Hövding “invisible helmet”

Ideally, we would all be wearing actively damped and sprung spherical shock absorbers on our heads when on our bicycles and motorcycles. These fantasy helmets would precisely sense the nature of the impending collision by calculating the angle of impact, the weight of the head in the helmet and the material qualities of the surface on which the impact will take place. Using all these parameters, the helmet would reorient itself for optimal surface contact and preload the spring and adjust the damping to minimize the g-forces that the human head will experience. Phew!

Why We Should Care About The Hövding
Dainese D-Air

Modern helmets seem quite dull in comparison. But, airbags like the Hövding and the current offerings by Dainese and Alpinestars are a step in the right direction. Impact attenuation is greatly improved by the characteristics of the medium being compressed (in this case, air), and the distance over which this compression is allowed to take place. The use of air as the shock-absorbing medium allows for the protective device to be much lighter weight for the surface area and thickness of the protective absorber. For user practicality, an airbag concentrates the protective medium when it is not deployed and releases it rapidly into place only when it’s needed. This has the added benefit of allowing a designer the extra flexibility and room to add protection to areas of the body where, before, it would have been inconvenient to have it.

Why We Should Care About The Hövding
Motorcycle airbag

However, what would a motorcycle application look like? As motorcyclists, our helmets serve a couple other purposes beyond protecting our head in a crash:

  1. They deflect windblast, debris, insect and weather elements at speed
  2. They insulate our head from adverse temperature and noise.

Therefore, there is always going to be a place for the passive safety and insulation from the elements that a conventional helmet provides.

Current motorcycle air bag development does not, as yet, incorporate coverage of the helmeted portion of the rider. This is shown clearly in this picture of Marc Marquez that was originally referenced on RideApart.

However, inclusion of a secondary air bag system to augment the dynamics of impact on the helmet might be a unique and potentially revolutionary means of saving more lives out on the road. In a report published in June of 2012, the CDC reveals that: “During 2008–2010, a total of 14,283 motorcyclists were killed in crashes, among whom 6,057 (42%) were not wearing a helmet.” To me this points to two things: That helmet use is effective in limiting traumatic head injuries to a certain extent and that more research or data needs to be developed for fatal head injuries suffered by those who did wear a helmet. With that kind of data and research, the prospect of developing an auxiliary air bag system for coverage of the helmet might be a possibility, perhaps even a necessity. Of course, the current developments by Dainese and Alpinestars already deploy a lower support structure to support the head, but they do not yet protect riders from direct impacts to the surface of the helmet itself.

Why We Should Care About The Hövding
Cyclist wearing the Hövding “invisible helmet”

Back to the Hövding, I asked Anna if their company was planning on making an entry into the two-wheeled motorist market, to which she confirmed, “Yes.” This is good news folks. The more companies that enter into this nascent market the better.

Perhaps Hövding can incorporate some of the engineering and technical know-how it has used to develop the Hövding into an auxiliary air bag system for motorcyclists, providing protection for areas other than those covered by the helmet. Or perhaps, they can simply extend their sensor technology to our market, modified to our conditions, and allow a diverse range of makers to simply engineer and develop the air bag deployment structure and leave the complex sensors and algorithms to a third party developer. When asked about this, Anna replied that indeed their technology was transferrable and, “For the right price, that could be possible.”

  • NOCHnoch

    I’d love to have a neck airbag. Just a little doughnut thing (maybe built into my jacket or helmet) that inflates when I’m going down. Anything to get out of wearing a HANS!

  • Davidabl2

    I agree w. Mr. NOCH –the first thing that came to my mind is that something like it would be the next stage in the evolution of the Leatt neck protector.
    Making it a device that people would actually wear on the street.
    As a replacement for the helmet I am less impressed, because of course the helmet protects you from flying debris, and the Høvding would not. Plus anything like the devices shown would blow around in the wind.. A Høvding device INSIDE a sectioned helmet shell would solve both problems, as well as serving a Leatt-like neck brace.

    • Jono

      I think the majority here tend to agree with you on that one. whilst this invisi-helmet works well for commuter cyclists i could only see it working for motorcyclists as a replacement for the foam inners of our conventional helmets. like a disposable airbag-foam composite that we could ditch/replace after a minor accident instead of a whole new helmet…

      • Davidabl2

        …This is where i think the segmented helmet shell comes into play, protecting the airbag from damage before use, and puncture during use.
        Assuming that the segments were made “smart’ enough to open up as needed to allow the airbag to inflate, but hopefully leaving one in place at the site of initial contact. Remember that car airbags are protected from puncture somewhat by the frame of the car.

  • phoebegoesvroom

    When I first saw this a few weeks ago, of course my first thoughts were how the design could be altered for motorcyclists’ use. It’s certainly not a replacement for a helmet on a motorcycle, but would be amazing for additional protection of the neck and maybe back? Heck, maybe the whole upper body from the shoulders up?

  • Davidabl2

    And for what it’s worth, the Høvding as worn by that lovely model reminds me of nothing so much as one of those Avedon fashion shots from the swinging’ 60′s.

  • Adam

    I wonder why they didnt design their product to protect the face. Seems like a priority to me.

    Also a bit curious about what happens to the pretty lady’s hair when the thing deploys. WARNING: May cause baldness when deployed on a person with long hair.

  • Jack Meoph

    Exactly. I would want the head and neck to be immobilized enough that the probability of disk movement is minimal. Also it would be nice if the bag enveloped the head completely, letting the air bag take the initial hit with the hard surface of the helmet following up. But, I think for a while the old chestnut is still applicable: It’s not the slide that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the end.

  • Davidabl2

    current bicycle helmets are not all that they could be-just read the disclaimer on the inside of one. Maybe these things could be a came changer.

  • Piglet2010

    Current soft-shell bicycle lids are useless beyond some bump and scrape protection, as indicated by whole population studies (why I wear a hard shell POC Trabec MIPS instead).

    For those interested in reading more: http://cyclehelmets.org/

    • Rob M

      As someone who has destroyed 3 bicycle helmets in crashes, I can assure you they provide far more protection than “some bump and scrape protection”. They may not be perfect, but they have allowed me to walk away from otherwise tragic head-meets-road occurrences.

      • Piglet2010

        Did you repeat the same falls without the foam bicycle hat to confirm this?

        If the foam bicycle hats are getting destroyed, maybe they are not providing much protection, eh?

        And can you explain why increased lid usage has *not* resulted in any reduction in death rates due to head injury?

        Did you read anything at the link I posted?