In 2006, Lund University industrial design students Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin decided to invent a better helmet as a class project. The first obstacle to overcome was aesthetic; people (notably the two students) simply don’t like to wear helmets. But their research also found that traditional plastic and foam brain buckets allow G-forces that lead to fatalities in an alarmingly high percentage of accidents. Their breakthrough design – a motion-triggered inflatable helmet – shields a much greater portion of the head and neck, and provides a softer landing.
The Hövding is essentially a wearable airbag – it’s manufactured in collaboration with airbag manufacturer Alva Sweden – and comes with all the technological wizardry found in its car-bound relatives. The collar contains motion sensors that are tuned specifically to the changes in momentum typical of a bike accident. Those sensors, which are charged via USB and good for 18 hours, stand at ready when the rider puts on the collar and snaps shut a clever zipper/on-button combination. When Hövding detects impending disaster, helium from a cartridge inflates the hood before the head makes contact with windshield or roadway, and keeps it inflated for a few seconds in case of secondary impacts. In independent tests by insurance company Folksam, the Hövding helmet displayed three times the shock-absorption capacity of traditional helmets.
Are there caveats? Price and availability are issues for now, with a 299-euro sticker (about $400) and distribution only in Europe and the UK, though there are plans for expansion. Additionally, the Hövding does not protect the rider from falling objects, and may not work to maximum effect on riders with exceptionally unwieldy hairstyles.
Because its sensors are adjusted to detect an impending bike accident, the Hövding is a bicycle-only proposition for now, and skateboarders, motorcyclists and even skiers are out in the cold. When asked about other applications, CEO Fredrik Carling coyly responds that “Hövding research and development activities are confidential. That said, the consumer interest for other applications is strong.”
As commuters round the world increasingly take to bicycles, it’s good to know that more of them can do so with both peace of mind and wind in their hair.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Autos, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.