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Building a Better Bike Helmet Out of Paper 317

An anonymous reader writes "Inspired by nature, a London man believes the solution to safer bike helmets is to build them out of paper. '"The animal that stood out was the woodpecker. It pecks at about ten times per second and every time it pecks it sustains the same amount of force as us crashing at 50 miles per hour," says Surabhi. "It's the only bird in the world where the skull and the beak are completely disjointed, and there's a soft corrugated cartilage in the middle that absorbs all the impact and stops it from getting a headache." In order to mimic the woodpecker's crumple zone, Anirudha turned to a cheap and easily accessible source — paper. He engineered it into a double-layer of honeycomb that could then be cut and constructed into a functioning helmet. "What you end up with is with tiny little airbags throughout the helmet," he says.'"
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Building a Better Bike Helmet Out of Paper

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  • Re:Bike helmet? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2014 @09:16PM (#45935163)

    I'll tell that to my brother who is now permanently disabled due to brain damage, as a result of not wearing a bike helmet and hitting a rock going down a hill at high speed.

    Thanks, jerk.

  • by Todd Palin ( 1402501 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @09:18PM (#45935177)
    Paper had one characteristic that might make it less than suitable for use in rain. One foam helmet might be cheaper in the long run than a bunch of soggy paper helmets.
  • by Picardo85 ( 1408929 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @09:19PM (#45935185)
    The name is Hövding and it's an "Airbag bicycle helmet". It's developed by some team in Skåne, Sweden. Looks really cool. []
  • Re:Bike helmet? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2014 @09:40PM (#45935351)

    As has been posted to Slashdot before, the data on helmet protection is equivocal. In many large scale studies, increase in helmet use does not reduce severe brain injuries, and could possibly increase the rate.

    Why? 1) Helmets might make bikers less cautious; 2) helmets might make car drivers less cautious; 3) a helmet can only absorb so much energy, and in many categories of severe crashes you're going to cross the threshold of severe brain injury regardless of a helmet (in other words the range of energies a helmet can protect you from might not overlap well with the kinds of crashes you need to worry about).

  • by arielCo ( 995647 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @09:51PM (#45935425)

    If I had to guess I'd say polystyrene is slower to compress and returns some of the energy (elastic deformation), while cardboard tends to deform permanently, absorbing all of the energy. As for being "disposable", I've read that conventional helmets should be discarded after an impact; these make sure you do.

  • Re:Bike helmet? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:11PM (#45935567)

    None of the reasons you post support your suggestion that helmet use does not reduce severe brain injuries or actually increase it. They are ludicrous at best.

    In 30 years on a bike, I've never ever seen someone say, oh, I have this helmet, lets see if I can skid right under that semi and out the other side. People who take ridiculous risks will take them without helmets just as often as with.

    The research only supports one assertion about increased injuries caused by helmets, and that is a marginal increase in neck injuries from the helmet catching on the roadway surface as you go sliding along. However, even this research recognizes this increase in neck injuries is a trade off compared to abraded to the bone head road-rash that would otherwise occur in the identical crash.

    That being said, when broadsided by a semi, a helmet won't help you. And its probably pointless to require them by law.

  • by craighansen ( 744648 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:18PM (#45935609) Journal

    I think you have to read between the lines carefully to find the real value in the article. I think it can be equally valid to build a bicycle helmet from corrugated or expanded cardboard as is is with styrofoam + shell. (OK, styrofoam is a trademart for Expanded Polystyrene.) As others have commented, cardboard is suseptible to damage from moisture, so it has to be sealed against it. In addition, I'm not convinced that the cardboard design is cheaper to manufacture than the styrofoam designs.

    To me, the relevant signal is the reduction in maximum G force. The article suggests that the design limit is 300G, and conventional helmets achieve 225G - while his design gets to 70G. Presumably, the mechanism for doing that is to absorb the impact energy over a significant period of time before transmitting the forces to the wearer. Given the velocity of the collision, this means that the helment has to be built with a greater distance between the outside and inside of the helment than existing designs. If people are willing to wear thicker helmets (appropriately designed), such helmets could be reasonably expected to perform better - I'd think comparable designs could be easily built from the styrofoam + shell technology that's commonly in use.

    Finally, the inventor says he was inspired by observing that his helmet was broken in the collision. THAT'S WHAT THEY ARE MEANT TO DO. In absorbing the forces of the collision, the helmet is permanently deformed. If your head is saved from destruction by a helment - buy a new helment to replace it.

  • Re:Bike helmet? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:46PM (#45935819)

    Okay, I didn't see this post before my mocking response about anti-seat-belt arguments.

    I am very skeptical of meta-studies that claim helmets increase injury rates (in fact, I'm somewhat skeptical of meta-studies in general -- they smack of running the results repeatedly through the blender until you get the consistency you want). But I haven't done extensive homework, so I can't actually dismiss what you say.

    I do take issue with one detail, though: the assumption that helmet laws will disincentivize cycling. You're assuming that uneducated and unreasonable attitudes about helmets can't be changed. They were changed for safety belts, and (to a large degree) for cigarettes; why not for helmets?

  • by hubie ( 108345 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:53PM (#45935851)
    Corrugated cardboard has been used for decades under high-altitude scientific balloon payloads to absorb the impact of landing from a parachute descent. You don't have to put too many of them under several thousand pounds of experiment and gondola. Here [] is a (not so good) picture of one example. The cardboard provides a very nice low-gee impact.
  • by impossiblefork ( 978205 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @11:05PM (#45935915)
    Aluminium honeycomb is used as a single-use shock absorber and deforms very evenly and I imagine that the same thing is true of this paper stuff. It's fairly impressive, but is best seen in an image: [].
  • Re:Bike helmet? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spike hay ( 534165 ) <.blu_ice. .at.> on Sunday January 12, 2014 @11:46PM (#45936183) Homepage

    Hitting something going downhill at high speed is going to cause brain damage or worse whether you have a helmet or not. Crashing on descents is very, very bad news.

    Styrofoam will only protect you in low speed collisions. Somebody was killed in the Giro d'Italia last year descending from hitting his head on a siderail. He was wearing a helmet, of course.

    This is the problem with these kind of anecdotes: If somebody crashes wearing a helmet, and is OK, it's just assumed that the helmet saved him. If somebody is hurt and was not wearing a helmet, it's assumed that he would have been ok if he was. In reality, this is a completely fallacious assumption, and is not borne out by the data.

    Helmets probably have a positive impact on low speed crashes, but it is small. Motorists would have significantly reduced fatalities if they wore motorcycle helmets (which are much more effective but impractical for bicycles), like race car drivers do, but they don't. Pedestrians have higher fatalities per kilometer than cyclists (and pedestrian fatalities are often due to brain damage), but they don't wear helmets. Why is this one activity singled out to wear a bulky safety yarmulke?

  • Re:Bike helmet? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gwolf ( 26339 ) <[gro.flowg] [ta] [flowg]> on Monday January 13, 2014 @01:34AM (#45936703) Homepage

    As I said in my post, I think that were I not to have my helmet on, I'd have a nasty scar, the product of using my forehead as a brake. It was a fairly low speed hit, but my head did hit the pavement *in* the helmet. So, the helmet absorbed some of the impact — but it also put a good 2cm between my skin and the street.

    Also, a helmet is coated in plastic to make it smooth, almost derrapant. It would not be impossible for my head, with a far higher friction, to get stuck while reducing the speed of my body - and could end up in spinal damage, maybe fatal.

    Of course, I have no way to know if that would happen were I not wearing a helmet. But I won't take chances.

  • Re:Bike helmet? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnu p . net> on Monday January 13, 2014 @06:18AM (#45937679) Homepage

    He was talking about helmet-vs-no-helmet, not trad-helmet-vs-paper-helmet.

    If you're cycling at 30MPH, come off cornering on ice, and hit your head on a kerb, a helmet may well save your life.

    I do have quite a lot of sympathy for the view that there are circumstances where a fall is so unlikely that a helmet is a waste of time -- cycling in light traffic, with warm dry weather and no recklessness.

    I finally bought a comfortable helmet, and since it's comfortable I always wear it. It's easier to do that than to evaluate the conditions every morning.

  • Re:Bike helmet? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @09:31AM (#45938389)

    See also the discussion section of that report:

    Research suggests drivers tend to believe helmeted cyclists are more serious and less likely to make unexpected moves [2,3]; the helmet effect seen here is likely a behavioural manifestation of this belief.

    Drivers expect helmeted cyclists to behave more predictably. What are the obvious conclusions?

    1. As helmet use becomes more prevalent, drivers may be less likely to interpret it as a sign of competence.

    2. If you want drivers to give you space, do your best to look and act like an incompetent idiot. Note: this works for motor vehicle operators as well.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers