Meet the inflatable, ‘invisible’ bike helmet

Posted at 5:21 PM, Aug 18, 2012
and last updated 2012-08-18 17:21:52-04

(CNN) – Hey, cyclists! Want to look more stylish while riding and still avoid the inconvenience of a cracked skull?

Then a pair of Swedish designers have got just the helmet for you – provided you’re willing to fork over about $600 and aren’t afraid of looking a little like a deployed airbag when you fall.

The newly released Hovding (no, Americans, that’s not a futon from Ikea) is billed as The Invisible Bicycle Helmet. Begun in 2005 as a project for a master’s-level industrial design course, the blow-up helmet is housed in a pouch that, when wrapped around your neck, looks a little like a puffed-up ski-jacket collar.

But, using gyroscopes and accelerometers and other electronic sensors, the Hovding can sense a bike crash and then immediately blow up an airbag of sorts to surround the cyclist’s head.

On their website, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin said they first began mulling the idea when Sweden passed a law requiring everyone 15 years old or younger to wear a helmet when cycling. The law spurred talk that all cyclists, not just children, should be made to wear a helmet – something that struck them as a fashion disaster.

“To people like us, who wouldn’t be seen dead in a polystyrene helmet, the thought that we might be forced to wear one by law was cause for concern,” they say in a post on their site. “Producing a bicycle helmet that people would be happy to put on looked like a much better way to go than legislation forcing people to wear one or else. “

The collar is now available with either of two “shells” – one black and the other a multi-colored paisley design. Both are modeled on the Hovding site by a chic-looking model (who, to her credit, also gamely wears the fully inflated helmet), and more designs are promised.

When the sensors are triggered, helium gas is deployed to fill up the nylon bag. Creators say it takes only a tenth of a second to fully inflate.

The Hovding (Swedish for “chieftain”) also includes a “black box” that records the 10 seconds of data about a cyclist’s movements before and during a crash. The creators ask users to send them the box after accidents, so they can continue to refine and improve the helmet.

Along the way, Haput and Alstin have employed the help of a brain-trauma specialist and have gotten millions of dollars of funding from investors. So the question now is – will anyone actually buy this thing?

At least for now, the price could be a hurdle. When converted from Swedish kroner, the helmet and one collar cost about $600.