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Coming to a head near you soon? Cycling helmet with integrated airbag is one step closer to reality as POC patent approved

Following Hövding's bankruptcy last year, fellow Swedes POC and Autoliv have taken their own airbag helmet concept one step closer to production

Following the initial announcement of their collaboration in 2022 to create a helmet equipped with airbag technology, cycling helmet brand POC and automotive safety system specialists Autoliv have successfully patented the design, that the Swedish companies claim will provide superior head protection for cyclists. 

This technology is intended to complement a hardshell helmet, which serves as the secondary energy absorber. Interestingly, the patent comes not too long after Hövding, another pioneer in airbag 'helmet' tech for cyclists, filed for bankruptcy in December 2023. Hövding's head protection device shares some similarities with POC's design, in that the airbag is activated in the event of an incident, but it's worn like a collar/snood rather than looking like a traditional bike helmet. 

While Hövding's device was lauded for its safety performance, it also received criticism for activating when it wasn't supposed to, and followed by the latest iteration of the product, the Swedish consumer watchdog ordered a halt to sales as well as a product recall of the latest version of the Hövding airbag. 

> Airbag cycle helmet triggered as man put coat on was being used incorrectly, says manufacturer

2022 Poc Autoliv airbag helmet prototype - 2

POC and Autoliv's partnership, combined with the new patent, positions them quite favourably to potentially fill the gap left by Hövding and lead the way in airbag helmet technology. But let's refresh our minds about what the POC helmet is actually like…

POC and Autoliv airbag helmet design

The helmet consists of a conventional protective main body made of lightweight foamed plastic material, similar to standard bicycle helmets, providing initial protection. But the special thing with it is the airbag system is designed to deploy during an incident to add an extra layer of head protection. 

POC airbag helmet patent detail

How do the airbags 'know' when to inflate, then? The patent says the helmet includes an inflator connected to the airbag and an actuation mechanism equipped with acceleration sensors:

"In case of an accident that leads to a typical “accident acceleration” the airbag deploys because it is filled with gas from the inflator and thus extends from the outer surface of the protective main body and thus enhances the thickness of the helmet at least in sections.

"This means that additional “protection depth” is provided for the head. Of course, this additional “protection depth” leads to improved protection. Because the head is not protected by the airbag alone, the deployed airbag can be relatively soft such that too quick acceleration can be avoided when the airbag helmet hits an obstacle like a part of a car or a street surface."

2022 Poc Autoliv airbag helmet prototype - 3

The patent also says that because of the hard shell, akin to that of traditional bike helmets, the helmet will provide protection even in scenarios where the head hits an obstacle without prior acceleration or deceleration, in situations "when the head of the bicycle rider hits a low hanging branch of a tree or a similar obstacle". 

In 2022, Autoliv said that its tests found the addition of airbag technology on top of the helmet “can significantly contribute to enhanced safety performance, especially in linear impacts.”

2022 Kask WG11 - 1 (2)

Linear impacts are direct, where the force is applied to the helmet in one direction, as opposed to angled impacts which cause rotational motion. Angled impacts are something that helmet technology has focused a lot on, with protection systems such as Mips and WG11 now featuring in ever more helmets to reduce rotational motion by redirecting energies and forces otherwise transmitted to the brain.

> Kask WG11 vs MIPS: which cycling helmet technology is best?

Do we need another helmet design, or cycling airbags? 

Whether we need an airbag helmet is for sure a divisive question, as is the general need for helmet wear and regulation in general. It is unarguable, though, that the current helmet designs have stayed much the same for decades, perhaps calling for more innovation to bring their safety up to modern standards.

Helmets have been in the headlines a lot in the past week, following British celebrity chef and TV presenter Gordon Ramsay's call for all cyclists to wear a helmet, "regardless of how short the journey is or how expensive it might be", after being involved in a crash that left him with trauma and a terrible bruise. The chef's statement coincided with that of the Dutch government calling on cyclists to wear helmets, and rather unpredictably the whole of the UK media were quick to join in on the debate on whether cyclists should be required to wear a helmet by law. 

Back in 2022 when we first reported on POC's airbag helmet, the brand reported that head injuries are a leading cause of cyclist fatalities, with many incidents occurring at speeds above 20 km/h (12.5 mph).

It also referred to the Bicycle Safety report by Swedish insurance company Folksam – which also independently tests helmets – highlighting the need for improved helmet absorption efficiency, particularly for collisions involving cars. The same report said that with the rise of e-bikes allowing commuters to travel at higher speeds, the need for enhanced head protection has never been more critical.

Folksam's most recent " Bicycle Helmets 2023 - Tested by Folksam" report doesn't really paint a rosy picture about the current state of helmet safety – even for those lids that meet the standards.

Folksam concluded: "A conventional helmet that meets current EN 1078 standard does not prevent a cyclist from sustaining a concussion in the event of a head impact. In addition to an improved performance regarding the protection of rotational loading, helmets also need to absorb energy more effectively.

"The safety standard EN 1078 that needs to be met for any bicycle helmet sold in the EU to obtain the CE mark should be seen as a minimum requirement. The potential outcome is that bicycle helmets meeting the EN 1078 standard requirements may not sufficiently protect in real-life collisions or falls."

When it comes to helmet laws, in Sweden, wearing a helmet while riding is only mandatory if you're 15 years old or younger. The law doesn't apply to children cycling by themselves, but a parent cycling with a helmet-less child can be fined up to 500SEK (£37). 

Whether POC's airbag helmet is the next big thing in bike helmets, and whether it adds that protection beyond the minimum standard requirements... well, we'll need to wait and see if it makes it into full production.

Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for off-road.cc. She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops. 

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22 comments

Avatar
kingleo | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

I've done about 500.000 miles on my bike in London, Britain and Europe - only seen one cyclist involved in an accident with head injuries,  he was sitting against a wall holding his head - a car turned right in front of him and he hit his head on the window screen.

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john_smith replied to kingleo | 3 weeks ago
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I've never seen anyone hit a windscreen, but I did once see someone get shot in the head. 

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IanGlasgow replied to john_smith | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

That wouldn't have happened if it was compulsory for everyone to wear bullet-proof helmets at all times.

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chrisonabike replied to IanGlasgow | 3 weeks ago
1 like

Or if there were always good guys with guns around...

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Paul J replied to kingleo | 3 weeks ago
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I've had a couple of biggish crashes, with head going through windows. It was always the /other/ injuries, to limbs and body, that were the worst.

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Another_MAMIL | 3 weeks ago
1 like

I welcome more choice in helmet technology. Once upon a time, motorcyclists were highly sceptical about airbag jackets—now many motorcyclists choose to wear them. Airbags for motorcyclists went from a wacky idea to serious R&D producing a serious product with serious benefits. 

In cycling, POC is a serious company, and I welcome them developing new helmet tech. I'm happy to have more safety choices.

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Paul J replied to Another_MAMIL | 3 weeks ago
1 like

The motorbike airbag systems generally are made to protect the torso - not the head and neck. An airbag on the body doesn't have much potential to /add/ to the damage if it fires late. The forces are spread much wider, and to less sensitive parts.

There isn't a precedent from motorbikes for head protection airbags. Also, the forces are a little bit different.

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ktache replied to Another_MAMIL | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

I very much like my POC helmets, and gloves.

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hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

I saw this the other day:

https://inflabi.com/

It's an inflatable helmet, so you inflate it before wearing it - not self-inflating

 

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
1 like

That would pair well with the inflatable bike moped reviewed on this site's companion pages...

I imagine it's quite warm - it's a thermarest for your head.

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john_smith replied to chrisonabike | 3 weeks ago
1 like

That kneeling position must be incredibly stable under hard braking.

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chrisonabike replied to john_smith | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

I think the rim brakes on the inflatable wheels probably mean that's not an issue.

The more I Iook at this, the more it looks like it's part licorice.

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marmotte27 | 3 weeks ago
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A fool and his money...

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Sriracha | 3 weeks ago
1 like

I think all this talk of "absorbing energy" is unhelpful. If my head, being in motion, is brought to a standstill (or vice-versa), what matters is how quickly that occurs. If it happens in a near-instant then the acceleration is extreme and injury to the brain ensues. If it is more gradual then the acceleration is more gentle, but over a longer period, and there is no injury. Yet in either case the energy equations are the same.

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mdavidford replied to Sriracha | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

Helmets seem to be absorbing quite a lot of energy around here, and I'm certainly not convinced that that's a good thing.

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Griff500 replied to Sriracha | 3 weeks ago
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No, the energy equations are not the same. It is nonsense to talk of acceleration/deceleration, without dealing with the resulting energy transfer. Whether its helmet design, or car crumple zone design, it is quite correct to talk of energy absorption. Ultimately the kinetic energy of your head, coming to a standstill will be converted to heat energy, often through deformation and damage. It is very helpful if the energy calculations show that kinetic energy from your head being transferred to kinetic energy in another medium, before being transformed through damage and deformation,to heat energy, in that other medium. Allowing too much of that energy conversion in your head is not good! Hence the introduction of an absorbing medium to which you can transfer some of that energy, which of course changes the energy calculations.

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levestane replied to Sriracha | 3 weeks ago
1 like

Cellular solids like eps can be designed to crush as a specific constant stress, with the energy absorbed being proportional to the strain. Provided there is sufficient crush distance then your head can be decelerated before it runs out of helmet.

Assuming air bags deflate as your head decelerates (the closed cells in the eps are little air bags that rupture as the foam crushed) then they can provide a greater deceleration distance. If the airbags don't deflate to absorb energy (force gas through a hole) then your head will rebound, which is not good.

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chrisonabike | 3 weeks ago
1 like

The Hovding one was scary.  Somewhere between judge's wig and something from Aliens.

(Their ads were all pretty odd - here's one being demonstrated by riding into a post, hitting your shoulder then going down - and never bumping your head.  Well, I guess if you went headfirst into the post the airbag wouldn't protect you any...)

This new one - I'm glad to see they've adopted something more like my idea.

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Paul J replied to chrisonabike | 3 weeks ago
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I wonder if the Hovding was recalled because it could make some collisions _worse_ - as per my other comment about this idea below.

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Paul J | 3 weeks ago
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Hmm.... this could actually _increase_ the force directed at the wearers head and neck, if it is still in the process of (forcefully) inflating with the helmet in contact with the external body. Even more of a risk if it starts to inflate only once in contact.

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Paul J replied to Paul J | 3 weeks ago
1 like

"oh hey, your head seems to be having a collision with a hard surface - why don't I just explosively discharge gas into a bladder strapped to your head, so that it gets even more of a kick!"

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john_smith replied to Paul J | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Assuming the typical "accident acceleration" means the acceleration of your head due to its having hit an obstacle. 

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