This is just a sneak peek from Tayfun and Sabrina’s feature in SCENARIO 5:2013. If you are not a current subscriber to SCENARIO or a member of The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, then subscribe or get in touch with us here.
A TV program, a good idea, and lots of willpower were the ingredients that kick-started two women’s vision about creating a bicycle helmet that people would actually want to wear. They came up with a radically different idea that met a lot of resistance on the way and in the end took seven years to realise. Today, it is considered a revolution in the category.
The bicycle has been tremendously important for the general public’s freedom of movement throughout the 20th century, not least since the 1950s. In Scandinavia, it is more popular than ever – and in a previous issue of SCENARIO (2:2013), we even pointed to the bicycle as the future’s number one means of transportation.
Human enthusiasm for the two-wheeler is thus great, but less so is our enthusiasm for the bicycle helmet, which in recent years has become an important aspect of bicycle culture, because safety has been prioritised in some countries. In certain countries it is even required by law to wear a helmet when you bicycle (Australia was the first country, in 1990), but critics have pointed out that increased social pressure to use bicycle helmets – and in particular mandatory helmet use – may make fewer people choose to bicycle. This could in the future result in missing out on massive health benefits and not least the environmental advantages of bicycling.
Precisely this conundrum made the two Swedish design students Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin think creatively and offer their idea of a future solution for bicycle helmets, a solution that roughly seven years later would turn out to revolutionise the category of bicycle helmets.
The ‘invisible’ helmet
The two women have developed a model that unlike the traditional bicycle helmet doesn’t sit on the head, but around the neck. It most resembles a scarf or neck brace, and it is equipped with tiny sensors that constantly monitor your movements when you bicycle. If the sensors register abnormal activity in connection with an accident, a helmet-shaped airbag is released that protects the head.
The idea is taken directly from the car industry’s airbags and is so obvious that one might wonder why nobody has thought of it before. However, it is also so technically complicated that it has been difficult to turn into reality.
In order to learn more about it all, we set out a summer’s day for Malmoe to interview the two inventors. Their company – Hövding – lies by the water in an industrial quarter with a view of the city’s new and trendy neighbourhood, Västra Hamnen.
We are bid welcome by Anna Haupt. She tells us that they are really busy with production, and so it is only her who will give an interview today while Terese Alstin takes care of work.
“Most people don’t care to use the bicycle helmets that exist today, and I think that is a big problem that deserves attention, particularly when you are an industrial designer,” she opens our conversation.
“Hence, I also felt a responsibility to do something about the problem. In my optics, it isn’t the minds of the bicyclists that must be changed, but rather the product that must be improved.”
It was a program on TV that made the ideas and the concrete development flow. In the program, a team of designers was invited to design a new bicycle helmet that should make people want to actually use the undesirable helmet. It is well known that a lot of people don’t use one because they think the helmet will destroy their hairdo or make them look silly in traffic. The desire for looking good often trumps safety.
Anna saw the program, but wasn’t impressed by the solutions, so with Terese she took matters into her own hand, since they in any case needed a subject to work with for the upcoming year assignment at the University of Lund where they studied industrial design. Shortly after, the project was launched.
SCENARIO: How did you get the idea for this atypical design for a bicycle helmet?
Anna: “We started very basically with a study of the use of bicycle helmets and uncovered the criteria that the new bicycle helmet should live up to. From this study we found that people wanted something that doesn’t muss up their hair, something that doesn’t look childish, and something that is easy to carry with them. We knew that radical changes were needed in terms of how the head is protected during bicycling, and one such radical idea was the solution with an airbag.” …