Swedish Hövding (Chieftan) Airbag Headgear Makes its Debut

Summary: Is the Swedish airbag bike helmet a reality? Can it really protect the way a traditional helmet does? We are waiting to see test results and answer a lot of questions.

Hövding cycle helmet

These British newspaper / blog articles with an embedded video introduces Swedish headgear that is based on the airbag principle, with an inflating protective bonnet designed to deploy when the rider is about to crash.
Airbag helmets have been the subject of conversation for years, often accompanied by photos of riders with balloons on their heads. But this one appears to be a serious attempt to put the mechanism to work. The device is a project of two Swedish design students, and other sources say it is expected to be on the UK market in 2011 at a price of 260 British pounds.

The airbag is nylon, and inflates with a gas generator when embedded gyros and accelerometers tell it a crash is taking place. The gyros have to be powered during use, so the Chieftan has a rechargeable battery. That seems like a real drawback to us, since the user has to be aware of the battery charge level (there are led indicators) and remember to keep it charged. After a crash the manufacturer wants the headgear back to check its “black box” for recorded movements prior to your crash. They offer a discount on the replacement. That implies that this is not a multi-use product.

If the device can detect all crash scenarios, the mechanism could be used to deploy other forms of protection for other body parts.

The video shows a test dummy on a bicycle struck from behind by a car indicated as moving at 20 kph (12 mph). The dummy is thrown over the hood and impacts its head on the flat part of the windshield. The bag deploys prior to the impact.

That is one specific scenario. But did the helmet perform? You can see the helmet bottom out and let the head hit the windshield anyway, and there is no instrumentation registering how many g’s the dummy head saw. And what would happen in a simple fall? Collision with a tree branch or utility pole? The mirror of a bus, or the front of a truck? Another impact after the bag begins to lose air?

Helmet lab testing normally includes testing wet, cold and hot samples. They are tested against rounded anvils and curbstone anvils as well as flat ones. How well would this device perform against a grapefruit-shaped anvil, or one that was the shape of a curb?

It is not possible to answer questions based on one article and video. There is no need to be too skeptical until we see more. That same thought applies to the helmet with a fiberboard helmet liner introduced by design students in the UK last month.

Perhaps the most important immediate news is that at least somebody is trying to solve the shared bike program helmet problem. Shared bike programs all over the world are in need of an easily transportable helmet or one that can be dispensed from vending machines at very low cost for users of shared bicycle programs who did not think to bring a helmet. There is at least one folding helmet from Dahon currently available in Europe, but it does not meet US standards and is expensive. We have been talking to manufacturers about shared bike helmets recently, but getting glazed looks that tell us they are thinking “there is not enough market to make it pay.”

Stay tuned, the airbag helmet is bound to be interesting!

Courtesy of WABA’s helmet advocacy program, the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute: BHSI.org