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.