The Best Helmet You Could Own Is Made of Cardboard

Illustration for article titled The Best Helmet You Could Own Is Made of Cardboard

Design student Anirudha Surabhi noticed that the helmets we've come to accept as part of keeping us safe aren't really good at their jobs. So he improved on the idea, using ordinary corrugated cardboard.

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According to Surabhi, the polystyrene helmets we wear while cycling or skating haven't gotten much safer in the last few decades. He writes:

Helmets protect your head only 16% of the times during a crash and have been giving us the false implication of safety. Emphasis this day is given to styling and aerodynamics. However, polystyrene does little to absorb impact energy but distributes it over the head. Since the past twenty years improvements have been made in the fields of aerodynamics and styling. However while cycling through a busy city at an average speed of 12mph, safety is more important than aerodynamics.

With that in mind, he created a helmet that can take 4 times the impact than its plastic cousin. Covering the cardboard is a water-resistant acrylic to keep your head dry in the rain. And the best part? They can be custom made to fit your head, adding that much more to your safety. This is bound to be a hit whenever it hits stores. [Wired]

DISCUSSION

I don't think he quite understands the point of a helmet. The idea is to do two things, spread the shock out over a larger area, thus reducing the single point impact; and slow down the over all acceleration of the impact, thus lowering the amount of force that makes its way into your head (and the tasty, tasty braaaiiinnnss held within.) That's why we don't make helmets out of solid steel but instead out of bits that go all smooshy when they hit something. By building a framework that will rigidly hold the skull in place the helmet will be fine after an impact, but the braaaiiiinnnss will be more like a scrambled egg. Also, corrugated cardboard tends to be very rigid in the direction of its flutes but very weak perpendicular to them. By using "ordinary" cardboard cut into semi-circular stays, he's created a very directional protection; forces applied vertically will be resisted too much and forces applied horizontally will not be resisted at all. Also, corrugated cardboard is well known for not handling moisture well. That plastic hipster bucket will retain heat and cause its wearer to sweat like crazy which will then lead to the cardboard turning into mush. Pump it full of "acrylic compound", per the linked article, and it simply turns the cardboard stays into rigid bits which don't deform enough.

All in all, this is why most companies don't have college design students in charge of their engineering. They tend to need a lot of seasoning and real-life type stuff before they're ready to actually make stuff. I would say this is a nice design study and an idea that, with a big shit-pile of R&D might be viable but considering crushable polystyrene is a pretty mature technology that meets the multitudinous requirements of safety and government regs I'd say it's a long-shot at best.

There's a lot of info out there on helmets and how they work, but here is a pretty good article from a well-known motorcycle magazine that does a great job of explaining the science and the methodology of the testing:

[www.motorcyclistonline.com]