September 19, 2014

Fun Friday: Is ‘Dorky’ the Direction of Helmet Innovation?

As the weekend nears, we of the Nutcase variety like to amuse ourselves by thinking about helmets past, present, and future.

Loving your brain and expressing your own bit of style has never been easy.

That piece of protective head covering known as a helmet came into general use by Assyrian soldiers around 900 BC. Assyrian helmets, in thick leather or bronze (above at far left) were heavy, clunky, and not very attractive on the wearer. In fact, these early helmets were visually akin to dunce caps. Their saving grace was that they might – might – save you from a direct sword blow to the cranium.

The early history of that piece of protective head covering known as a bicycle helmet has not been all that different. Fast-forward 3,000 years from the era of the Assyrian helmet, give or take a few decades. The first bicycle helmets were fashioned in thick leather, or, when the Brits started riding, in cork or pith, and eventually, hard plastic and compressed Styrofoam. These were generally heavy, clunky, and not very attractive on the wearer. In short, also dorky-looking.

Fun Friday bike helmet

Early bike helmet design

These days there’s a lot happening in helmet design. We’re no longer as consumers confined to a single shape. Helmets are much lighter and more aerodynamic. And from a Nutcase perspective, we’re doing our best to make them much more personalized, fun, and style-focused, with oodles of graphic designs to appeal to multiple tastes.

Fun Friday Promo

Airbus’ recently patented sensory isolation helmet

But unfortunately, as designers grapple with how to further improve on helmets’ functionality, they frequently end up with first generation designs that are, well, dorky.

Take Airbus, the French airplane design and manufacturer. Airbus has applied for a patent for a ‘sensory isolation’ helmet that blocks out all of the sights and sounds in an airplane cabin and gives the helmet wearer the ability to create a little virtual-reality world with self-selected video and audio feeds. This may well be a boon to people with an intense fear of flying – but in simple patent drawings, the Airbus helmet is a huge bubble, intended to be attached to a seat headrest, and ends up looking like a 1950’s hair salon dryer unit perched on the back of the already narrow seat. Really?

Fun Friday Mindrider

The Mindrider is a mood reader

Or check out the Mindrider, an MIT-funded pilot project for a helmet that tracks your mood with built-in EEG (electroencephalography) sensors, in order to ‘maximize your riding experience.’ The Mindrider helmet is an admirable project, and also includes a smartphone app that tracks riders’ rides so that users can share best routes. But in its first iterations it looks like a giant purple mood ring – definitely dorky and better off on a Star Trek re-run than actual human heads.

Fun Friday Morpher

Morpher…like a red turtle for your head.

And lastly, let’s just look over the newest big trend in bicycle helmet design – the folding helmet. At least four folding helmets have bubbled up in the collective bike-world consciousness in the last couple of years. And they are all dorky. The premise, to make a helmet easier to go from bike to backpack, is good. But the execution needs some generations of honing. There’s the Morpher, which looks a little like putting a bright red turtle shell on your head, and the Plixi, with its Storm Trooper under- and over-tones. There’s the Carerra, which tries its best, and the Spanish-made Closca, which tries even harder but ends up looking interestingly…dorky.

In short, dorky seems like a meme in the early days of helmet design – hopefully one that we can eventually overcome.