The helmet that explodes

At Beryl HQ, we’re always on the look-out for the latest innovation in cycling safety. A few years ago our founder, Emily, met the founders behind Hövding, the world’s first “airbag for cyclists”. The tests and product design was really compelling, and it was an immediate hit with the Beryl team. Fast forward a few months, and it was Emily's Hövding helmet that saved her from injury when she came off her bike in central London.

All this to say, we are big fans of the innovative airbag helmet. So when we had the chance to sit down with the Hövding team and learn about the details behind the design, we jumped at the opportunity. Ever wondered how the airbag helmet works? Now is your chance to find out.

The basics: what is a Hövding helmet and how does it work? 

Hövding protects the rider by providing an airbag around their head and neck when they have an accident or fall off their bike. It is able to detect the cyclist’s movement patterns and react to them thanks to the sensors and unique algorithm, meaning that the airbag inflates within 0.1 seconds if it is triggered by an accident. The specialised airbag then inflates to cover your head and stabilises the neck.

How can the sensors accurately detect movement? 

When the helmet is activated (it has to be charged and then turned on when in use), Hövding records the cyclist's movements 200 times a second. This is done through gyroscopes and accelerometers that measure the head and neck movements and acceleration and angular velocity of the neck.

How do the sensors detect false positives?

This is where the machine-learning algorithm comes in; the Hövding development team put the technology through thousands of tests, re-enacting cycling accidents using stunt riders and crash-test dummies to collect the specific movement patterns of cyclists in accidents. In parallel, thousands of hours of everyday cycling data have been collected. Based on this, they developed an algorithm that has learned to distinguish normal cycling from accidents.

In the event of an accident, the cyclist's abnormal movement is detected through the sensors and the algorithm decides to activate the airbag.

A Hövding activated during a fall

The Hövding airbag design:

So much thought needs to go into choosing materials for an airbag for cycling; unlike in a car, the Hövding team needed to take into consideration how the fabric will react when it comes into contact with the ground. They ultimately chose an ultra-strong nylon fabric, which can withstand being scraped along the ground at speed. 

The design of the airbag also required thinking beyond traditional airbag designs. The Hövding airbag was designed to expand into a hood shape, encasing the head and neck of the cyclist. However, you can’t cover the eyes or crucial airways on the face, so Hövding protects nearly all of the head, while leaving the field of vision open, and still covering a much larger area than a traditional cycle helmet. 

What does it feel like when the airbag goes off? 

This has happened to a few people in the office, so we were able to get first-hand tales of airbag activation. There’s a sharp noise as it activates and inflates, and the airbag stabilises the neck and provides extremely soft and gentle shock absorption. The pressure remains constant for several seconds, making it able to withstand multiple head impacts during the same accident. After that the airbag slowly starts to deflate. Be warned: this is not your normal bicycle helmet experience... you will look like the Michelin Man.

What is the Hövding helmet made up of? 

The Hövding collar holds the airbag, but also a cold gas inflator that uses helium gas. It is placed in a holder in the collar on the cyclist’s back, and this is the mechanism by which the airbag is inflated in case of an accident. 

As a design-conscious brand, the team have made sure that riders can personalise their Hövding. Zip-on, zip-off covers mean you can easily swap them in and out depending on your mood, personality or your outfit. It’s also convenient for washing them, if you’ve had a particularly strenuous or warm ride.  Lastly, you can add an extra layer of safety - Hövding offers reflective covers, which not only change the way you look but also the way you are seen in traffic.

Is this the first time you’ve heard of the 'airbag for cyclists', or are you already a convert? 

Photo credit to the Hövding team, and we are grateful for them for giving us a behind-the-scenes tour of their design