by L.S. Winkler
In 2005, Swedish designers Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin began work on a joint masters thesis in response to new laws requiring cyclists under the age of 15 to wear a helmet while operating a bicycle. The new law left many Swedish cyclists wondering if helmet laws for adults would soon follow, so the duo behind Hövding used the public’s concern as an opportunity for groundbreaking innovation.
They began surveying people on the streets to understand exactly why urban cyclists were choosing not to wear a helmet. This research led Haupt and Alstin to believe the best helmet they could create would need to be invisible. The Hövding Invisible Helmet is a fabric collar containing a built-in airbag designed to inflate around a cyclist’s head on impact. The fabric shells of the collar are replaceable and meant to be changed based on weather and style, which makes for a stylish piece of safety gear that will save your hair and, most importantly, your life.
The process from design to device took seven years of intensive research and development, recording hundreds of hours of cycling footage and studying accident recreations with the Swedish Stunt Group and crash test dummies. Research has proven that shock absorption from an airbag is actually much greater than that of the polymer foam inside a traditional bicycle helmet. With this research data, Haupt and Alstin were able to acquire the proper government certifications needed to sell bicycle helmets.
Hövding is the Swedish word for “chieftain” and the pioneers behind the name are proving to be leading visionaries in urban cycling. They were nominees for Design Product of the Year 2012 by The Design Museum in London and won a prestigious INDEX Award in 2011. We spoke with the Hövding designers about their product launch, a documentary film that’s in the works, and what to expect next.
When did the Hövding Invisible Bicycle Helmet officially launch and who is buying it?
November 2011 was the official release. So far, we have sold 600. It has been about 50/50 women to men and age has a very wide range—from 15 to about 65. There are varying reasons for their purchase but one thing we see in common is that people who buy the invisible helmet hate the ordinary bicycle helmet. Traditional bicycle helmets are bulky, hard to carry and store, and they mess up your hair. Some cyclists are primarily interested in the safety aspect while others are attracted to the technology behind it, and of course that is fashionable.
Have you heard back from any cyclists about accidents while wearing the invisible helmet?
There have been four or five accidents reported. Those cyclists sent back their helmet so we could collect data from the built-in black box. It records about 10 seconds of information on things like acceleration, angle of movements, the change in both acceleration and the cyclists positions right before and during the accident. This is extremely helpful for our research.
What is the projected life span of the invisible helmet?
The expiration date mainly refers to the airbag’s life span, which is the same as a car’s—10 years. The fabric around the airbag will break down a little faster, though. We assume people will want to replace their invisible helmet every three to four years, the same as you would do with ski gear and most other sporting equipment. In Sweden, we actually have insurance that covers the cost of buying a new helmet after a biker has been involved in an accident.
How has the overall reception of the invisible helmet been?
Very good. Only in the beginning did we really hear a lot of “that is impossible” from older, potential investors who did not think we could make it happen. We’ve been invited to the capital to present and have had shared interest from members of the Swedish Royal Family. The helmet has been CE* marked, which is required to sell a cycling helmet in Europe. Some opinion suggests that the invisible helmet has the opportunity to be an influential export for Sweden.
You guys just finished filming a documentary with renowned Swedish filmmaker and journalist Fredrik Gertten. Whose idea was it to shoot a film?
The film is a response to American documentarian Morgan Spurlock‘s invitation to filmmakers around the world to capture innovators in action, making the impossible possible. At first we were a little hesitant to work with Morgan Spurlock, his films tend to involve controversy, but after we had the initial call we knew we wanted to be involved in the challenge. We are very flattered to be able to work with Fredrik and we actually get to see the first preview of the film this week!
What is the premise of the film and where can we expect to see it?
In all of Morgan Spurlock’s films you see the big guys against the small guys and in this documentary we are the small guys! Up against “the man”. While we were searching for investors early on, we were told many times that what we were attempting to do was impossible. We had set out to do just that, though, invent the impossible—an invisible bicycle helmet. It’s been seven years of research and development to get to this point. The documentary will be part of a series of films showcasing innovators from around the globe at film festivals in the States.
Any innovations to the invisible helmet under way?
Yes, of course, but they are all secret!
Without revealing any secrets, can you tell us what’s next for Hövding?
We have many plans! Our focus will remain on cycling—the industry is very interesting and exciting right now. In the past, the industry advancements have been made for the serious, sporty, competitive cyclist but now we are seeing significant growth in urban cycling and its role in the environment with regards to pollution control even.
The goal is to have new shell designs twice a year. Ideally, working with the seasons—I personally would love to have one made with faux fur for the Winter. We will definitely pursue collaborations and limited editions with fashion labels as well as cycling brands. We’re a few years out from developing new products still. Right now we are getting Hövding off the ground. It takes a lot of time and money to get certifications for the helmet in each country so we’re focused on one geographic area at a time.
The Hövding Invisible Helmet is available online from $600.