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Swedish company Hovding has developed an inflatable air bag collar for adult cyclists who do not want to wear traditional plastic and Styrofoam helmets. The collar looks like a scarf and inflates if it detects that a crash is imminent.
The Hovding air bag is safer than traditional bicycle helmets because it covers a larger portion of the head and can cushion a shock up to five times better than a traditional helmet. A study by a Swedish insurance company supported that claim.
The inflatable scarf uses technology similar to air bags in cars, which use an electronic network to sense impending crashes. Two sensors detect movement that indicates a crash is imminent. A gyroscope tracks angular shifts, and an accelerometer detects sudden changes in speed. If it detects an impending accident, the scarf inflates with helium in less than a second. The sensors are powered by lithium-ion polymer batteries, which need to be charged. One charge lasts 18 hours.
If the helmet inflates, the user needs to buy a new one. The inflatable scarf has a black box that can record data from an accident, which the company can study. So far Hovding has received data from about 70 customers whose scarves inflated during crash. They are not aware of any malfunctions.
The inflatable scarf costs about $546 because of the expensive parts and fabric it uses and the expensive development process required to design it. It took $15 million in venture capital and seven years of research to develop the inflatable collar. The team had to simulate many different types of cycling accidents and create a set of algorithms to predict and respond to them. The company hopes to lower the price as they sell more of the scarves.
The inflatable collar was invented by Terese Alstin and Anna Haupt. Both are industrial designers.
Hovding expanded from Scandinavia to several other European countries in 2013 and plans to introduce the inflatable scarf in Japan. It also hopes to bring the product to the United States after receiving certification.