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Smart Wheels, Rat Things, and Reason have yet to be fully developed.
May 15, 2012 8:47 AM   Subscribe

"She lets go of the handle and goes into free fall. At the same time, she jerks the manual release on her cervical collar and goes into full Michelin Man mode as tiny gas cartridges detonate in several strategic locations around her bod. The biggest one goes off like an M-80 at the nape of her neck, unfurling the coverall's collar into a cylindrical gas bag that shoots straight up and encases her entire head. Other airbags go off around her torso and pelvis, paying lots of attention to that spinal column."
In his 1992 book Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson described a protective airbag technology for bikers and skateboarders. It's become a reality.

Videos of it in action: [video 1] [video 2]

[via]
posted by quin (59 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very cool!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:51 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Programming the accelerometers to detect a fall must have been entertaining... "Now fall over again! Faster! Again, only this time go over the bars! Now pretend you can't unclip! DOOR!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:52 AM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why doesn't it cover the front of your face?

Why doesn't it inflate along the spine?

It looks like it wouldn't inflate properly if you were wearing a helmet. Perverse incentive?
posted by leotrotsky at 8:53 AM on May 15, 2012


Joel thought it up three years before Stephenson.
posted by cog_nate at 8:54 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just spent a slightly panicked minute searching the website thinking that it was designed for use by motorcyclists. Spoilers: no, it's really not.
posted by fight or flight at 8:54 AM on May 15, 2012


Cool, this was designed in Sweden! Hövding means chieftain.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:55 AM on May 15, 2012


So if it's cold and you have your scarf wrapped around it or your jacket hood on, you're pretty much getting your neck crushed in a wreck?

Just wear a friggin' helmet.
posted by resurrexit at 8:55 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not recommended for mountain biking, free riding and stunts.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:56 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's already something similar, and slightly more practical, for skiers and snowboarders to keep them 'afloat' in an avalanche.
posted by Flashman at 8:56 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, it requires charged batteries? hmmm, that seems to invite disaster.

Also, will it deploy if something hits you (or your head) before you start to fall?
posted by oddman at 8:58 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If my math conversion is correct.......

Hövding Krage, Medium - 1 - 3500 SEK
3500 Swedish kronor = $493.89 US

I guess it is worth it as long as you don't have to repurchase multiple times a year. Maybe with time the price will be more reasonable. I bet a lot of people would use something like this.
posted by lampshade at 8:59 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Smart Wheels, Rat Things, and Reason have yet to be fully developed.

Not for lack of trying. Have you seen Cheetah?
posted by CaseyB at 9:00 AM on May 15, 2012


Why doesn't it inflate along the spine?

Yeah, reading the summary I thought it would be more like the Snowcrash version with full body—or at least torso—protection. I was a little underwhelmed, since it seems like most of the work is in the sensors, not the bags themselves.

It looks like it wouldn't inflate properly if you were wearing a helmet. Perverse incentive?

They should design a version that is built onto a helmet so you get the airbag cushion plus a hard helmet underneath.
posted by jedicus at 9:02 AM on May 15, 2012


Wow, we are a disillusioned bunch.

I think it's pretty fucking cool. It's also kind of funny that they've disguised what is some obviously ugly neckwear as simply the latest in haute couture.
posted by Think_Long at 9:03 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess it is worth it as long as you don't have to repurchase multiple times a year. Maybe with time the price will be more reasonable. I bet a lot of people would use something like this.

Or you could just buy a simple helmet rather than a silly over-engineered inflating helmet collar thing.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:04 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine the amount of times I would have come home wearing this inflated headgear of shame during my stupid years of drunkenly riding my bike home from bars.
posted by chococat at 9:04 AM on May 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


What's the weird anger about in this thread? Anything that will get more people (who wouldn't normally wear a helmet) to improve their safety is a good thing.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 9:05 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This section from the website is a marvel of technical writing:
Mohawk: If your mohawk is very rigid it might interfere with the inflation of the airbag. If it’s soft it should not be a problem.
Afro: A very big afro can be in the way of a correct inflation. Contact our customer services if you are wondering about your afro in particular.
Thin dreadlocks: Place your dreads inside the Hövding collar. Measure around your neck and dreads with a tape measure. If neck and dreads together have a circumference smaller than 42 cm, it’s ok to use Hövding. Always keep the dreads inside the collar during your bicycle ride.
If the circumference is larger than 42 cm, your dreads are too big. See chapter 3 below.
posted by theodolite at 9:07 AM on May 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


If you start digging through the manual they mandate hair styles, headwear, saddle height, wheel diameter...

It does say that it remains inflated for long enough to take multiple impacts though, which was my biggest concern. Serious accidents are rarely just one hit.

It's interesting, and far less practical than a genuine helmet. If it encourages anyone to protect their skull I'm behind it 100%, but I worry that it's too complicated to win over people that can't be bothered to wear a helmet.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:07 AM on May 15, 2012


Ouch! In video 2 it looks like the dummy still smashes its face into the pavement.
posted by hot_monster at 9:09 AM on May 15, 2012


Reason [has] yet to be fully developed

We've only had six thousand years of civilization, okay?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:10 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


My thinking is that people who think having nice hair is more important than a helmet don't understand head injuries or the risk they're taking by riding without. So at best they're going to get safety conscious helmet wearers that are tired of mussing their hair.

There may be a market there... I don't know. It doesn't personally affect me one way or another, the styles of riding I do make this dangerous and impractical for me. I don't suspect that it's likely to get the helmet-less on board though.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:11 AM on May 15, 2012


I predict that approximately no one will purchase this.
posted by empath at 9:13 AM on May 15, 2012


Well the important thing is now we are that much closer to my dream, which is to see my favorite old Unsane video re-filmed, but with a giant system of personal airbags going off every 2.5 seconds.
posted by furiousthought at 9:16 AM on May 15, 2012


What's the weird anger about in this thread? Anything that will get more people (who wouldn't normally wear a helmet) to improve their safety is a good thing.

Saying something is flawed and/or not useful is not the same thing as being angry about it. Especially with safety systems, sometimes having a poorly designed system is worse than no system at all (such as deaths of infants caused by low speed car collisions due to airbag deployment). It may end up being slightly better protection for people than completely forgoing any kind of head protection but that is hardly saying much, especially considering the system is so much more inherently complex and failure-prone than alternatives that already exist.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:16 AM on May 15, 2012


Do I hear laughter in the second video around 24 seconds in? I know if I was testing this product like so, I'd be giggling nonstop...
posted by MysticMCJ at 9:16 AM on May 15, 2012


Have we reached the point where it's shorter to list the elements of Snow Crash that haven't come to fruition at this point?

Because, seriously, if we're going to get a heavyhanded dystopia, I at least want a Plank to compensate for that.
posted by schmod at 9:19 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's dumb now. But in 20 years maybe you'll be able to buy a cool-looking jacket with an airbag built in that's big enough to protect your entire head, neck, and spine, and that's robust enough to protect you in a variety of sports. Baby steps....
posted by miyabo at 9:21 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know... I can see myself bending over quickly to check my rear brake pad while waiting for the light to change and having this thing go off. I really like the idea, though, and hope they keep developing it. It would be great not to have to wear a helmet but still have all the protection afforded by one.
posted by Osrinith at 9:22 AM on May 15, 2012


I'm going to buy this. I'm also going to build a shark-filled moat around my house so I don't have to lock the doors.
posted by brain_drain at 9:22 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


You will have egg on your face when you are robbed by that international gang of thieving sharks.
posted by elizardbits at 9:23 AM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


These inflatable collars, jackets and vests have been on display at the big powersports dealer show in Indianapolis for the last few years. Dainese has been working on one, as well as several smaller companies. Others are trying different approaches; Honda equipped the Gold Wing with an optional factory air bag.

It's actually a tough problem. How do you trigger the thing? Some have ripcords attached to the bike that activates the inflatable when you separate from the bike. Great, until you forget to disconnect and blow yourself up at the gas station. Accelerometers? A motorcycle can be ridden on either wheel or leaned so far over the rider is dragging his elbow.

None of the inflatables I've seen is remotely ready for prime time. Maybe someday, but not now.
posted by workerant at 9:25 AM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let me be clear that I don't hate this; I just think it's high-maintenance and impractical.

But--it's the first step in total body-suit airbags, like a Dickies coverall or a pilot's flight-suit, that I can put on and zip it over my regular clothes before driving or cyclying, then take off when I get to work. In a car you plug it into the car's airbag deployment software that, if it gets triggered, your suit gets triggered. On a bike, (1) you do ?? (2) it deploys, (3) profit!

They should make this where it could be worn over a typical helmet. As belt-and-suspenders, I think this could be great.
posted by resurrexit at 9:26 AM on May 15, 2012


Yeah, what workerant said!
posted by resurrexit at 9:27 AM on May 15, 2012


ha! I just saw a skateboarder holding on to the back of a car to gain speed the other day, and of course, I thought of YT :)
posted by supermedusa at 9:28 AM on May 15, 2012


Oh god, those videos. "Object in Front Wheel" is a daily source of terror if I let myself think about it while I'm riding.
posted by sklero at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2012


What's the weird anger about in this thread?

It's a metafilter thing.
posted by chronkite at 9:37 AM on May 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is useless. It only protects against impact on broad, flat surfaces like the ground. Hit a hard corner and it would go right through.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:54 AM on May 15, 2012


The system seems to have neck support as well as head protection. That alone is a fairly big plus over a traditional helmet. I'm less convinced that it would be as good as a regular helmet for a faceplant fall, and would also like to see how it handles abrasion, like being dragged across pavement.

It looks like it wouldn't inflate properly if you were wearing a helmet.

It is a helmet replacement. Why would you wear a helmet under a helmet?

It only protects against impact on broad, flat surfaces like the ground.

This describes a lot of road accidents. Something like 70% of all injuries involve a single bike with no contact, falls of one description or another. Still, it would be interesting to see what a collision with a curb or a car door would be like.

A neat technology. We'll probably be wearing them in ten years. Inflatable PFDs are already here (and soooo much nicer to wear than lifejackets), why not inflatable helmets?
posted by bonehead at 10:03 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


My thinking is that people who think having nice hair is more important than a helmet don't understand head injuries or the risk they're taking by riding without.

Or they're doing a century on a hot and humid sunny day. Helmets, particularly cheaper ones, can be really uncomfortable if you're working hard. Having a big scarf around your neck might not be much better though.
posted by bonehead at 10:07 AM on May 15, 2012


I've just invented dreadlocks that autoinflate and protect your head, no matter how high you are.
posted by hanoixan at 10:08 AM on May 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


I can't imagine the amount of times I would have come home wearing this inflated headgear of shame during my stupid years of drunkenly riding my bike home from bars.

Then you wake up in the morning on the couch thinking 'Jesus, this hangover feels like something exploded around my neck and then wrapped my cranium in some sort of balloon.'
posted by colie at 10:16 AM on May 15, 2012


I'm going to keep waiting for the personal forcefield. No muss no fuss.
posted by emjaybee at 10:17 AM on May 15, 2012


I've often considered a motorcycle airbag vest for bicycling but I've wondered how the physics would work out with regards to the ripcord. Is a bicyclist more or less likely to be separated from their vehicle than a motorcyclist in an accident? Are there any unbiased studies that show air bag vests even work as intended?

I hope this technology continues to improve, although I think they're barking up the wrong tree with a helmet replacement. Totally violates K.I.S.S.
posted by Skwirl at 10:21 AM on May 15, 2012


A. I'd rather wear a helmet than this, but B. I'm clearly not the target audience, because (see A.)
posted by gurple at 10:39 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


burnmp3s: sometimes having a poorly designed system is worse than no system at all (such as deaths of infants caused by low speed car collisions due to airbag deployment).

Or seat belts without shoulder straps, or airbags for shorter drivers, or deformable polymer ceramic healmets that ikkyu2 mentions in this old AskMe.

In fact the list is extraordinarily long.

bonehead: Or they're doing a century on a hot and humid sunny day. Helmets, particularly cheaper ones, can be really uncomfortable if you're working hard. Having a big scarf around your neck might not be much better though.

This was my thought.. Incredibly cool design project, but as implemented it looks incredibly uncomfortable. I'd rather wear a helmet (and that is saying something). It might be possible to design a cold weather system, but in hot weather I don't think this approach will ever work on a human powered vehicle.
posted by Chuckles at 10:46 AM on May 15, 2012


jiffy pop has a golden marketing opportunity here
posted by balistic at 10:48 AM on May 15, 2012


Various types of inflatable jackets for motorcylists have been around for a while.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 10:49 AM on May 15, 2012


Mr. Stephenson is coming to my tiny, remote town to do a reading from Diamond Age: Or, ... next month. I can't wait.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:08 AM on May 15, 2012


Wow, we are a disillusioned bunch.

...

What's the weird anger about in this thread?


People are taking it seriously enough to give it a serious critique. As someone who's been in a car/bike accident (on my bike) and thinks about this sort of thing a lot, and would like an improvement on a bike helmet that's actually an improvement, I do feel a certain amount of disappointment when it seems on closer examination that they haven't thought certain things through. I'm not reflexively snarking on this, but I can certainly understand the impulse to do so, especially when the response to fairly constructive criticism is special snowflakism. (Apologies if the remarks that I excerpted above were in response to now-deleted comments that really were weird anger.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:26 AM on May 15, 2012


Kind of useless if someone just drops a cinder block on your head.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:36 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


>It only protects against impact on broad, flat surfaces like the ground.

This describes a lot of road accidents. Something like 70% of all injuries involve a single bike with no contact, falls of one description or another.


That's obvious, but what isn't obvious is what happens in the other 30%, since the manufacturer hasn't shown crash test videos of anything that.

Let me ask you a theoretical question. Which would you prefer:

1. Protective headgear that is 100% effective 70% of the time, and 0% effective 30% of the time.

2. Headgear that is 70% effective 100% of the time.

According to Game Theory, they are exactly equivalent.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:41 AM on May 15, 2012


Depends on the practical effect of 70% effectiveness. If 31% of cases come out the same at 70% and at 0% (a combination of situations where there's no health impact even with ineffective protection, and ones where you're killed by the 30% of the impact that got through the helmet), then the all-or-nothing headgear is the way to go.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:45 AM on May 15, 2012


Wake me up when this goes live.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:52 AM on May 15, 2012


Let me ask you a theoretical question....

We don't really know how effective these things are yet. The first video shows some benefit even in vehicle impacts, so your 30% is likely not 0 protection, for instance.

Are the sensors tuned well enough to activate reliably without too many false positives? That seems to be the big problem to me. How well do these things do in the real world?

Are penetrative blows important for cyclists? You do know that modern helmets are utterly useless at this right? They're thin plastic shells over styrofoam. I've seen sticks go right through them in crashes. They're good at impacts and abrasion but not impaling injuries.

We don't even know if they'll pass a CPSC/EN1078 or a Snell test, nor do standards exist to really test these helmets.

I view these things as advanced engineering prototypes, interesting proofs of concept. Beta test them in the real world and we'll get some data. Game theory models only work if you actually know the stats. We don't yet, and we don't know how much better these things will get either. Too early to judge.
posted by bonehead at 12:17 PM on May 15, 2012


It's interesting, and far less practical than a genuine helmet.

Isn't it accepted that (adult) bicycle helmets have little protective effect? Would this be any better? (I doubt it.)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:28 PM on May 15, 2012


Sorry, I'll pass. I do not like the idea of a bomb going off right next to my spinal cord. I really like being able to feel my legs.

Sure, the crash might break my neck anyway, but maybe it won't. Lesser risk, folks.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:28 PM on May 15, 2012


We don't really know how effective these things are yet.

Worse than that, we don't really have great definitions for what effective means in the general case (hence the larger debate that mrgrimm points to, but that might start becoming a derail, so I'll leave it at that).
posted by Chuckles at 3:23 PM on May 15, 2012


There exist inflatable vests for riders who do eventing (this is a sport with horses), as discussed in this NYT article from 2010.
posted by which_chick at 4:48 PM on May 15, 2012


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