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The Sustainable, Durable Solution to Bike Helmet Safety: Cardboard?!

| Friday June 17th, 2011 | 2 Comments

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Bicycling is an inherently sustainable form of transportation: No emissions, minimal materials required to make the vehicle, increased rider fitness, decreased auto traffic. And yet there’s a weak link in this chain: The helmet.

Modern day helmets are single use, and unrecyclable when done. In other words, one crash and it’s in the trash. And they don’t even do what they’re intended to: According to Anirudha Rao, your head is only protected in 16% of crashes! The focus has largely been on improving aesthetics and aerodynamics, while neglecting arguably their most important use: Protecting the safety of riders.

London design student Rao has come up with a very holistic solution: the Kranium helmet. Its starts with changing its core protection grid to something unexpected: cardboard.

Cardboard? Yes, in tests, the Kranium helmet showed itself to be able to absorb 4x the impact as compared to conventional expanded polystyrene, as the video below proves. How does it achieve this result? According to the site,

The ribs of the structure have been designed to accommodate movement in some places where as it remains perfectly rigid in some areas. Thus during a crash the force peak of the impact is absorbed by the ribs tending to flex and de-flex. The remaining amount of energy is then absorbed by the crumpling nature of the corrugated ribs.

While structurally effective, it’s aesthetically pleasing, which will serve to attract interest from a broader segment of the bicycling population. Being cardboard, it’s probably fairly easy to customize the appearance to one’s tastes.

Great, but is it waterproof you ask?

Yes, it’s impregnated with an acrylic compound. Does this then render the cardboard unrecyclable?

Kranium also holds two interesting possibilities: a person’s head can be measured, with those figures being used to create a custom helmet that exactly fits the users head, versus today’s typical rough approximation, relying on straps to finish the job. As Rao puts it,

…once the users head is scanned, the file remains in the system. Upon damaging the helmet, the user can get a brand new helmet for a fraction of the new price.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rao proposes that Kranium could play a part in the booming bikeshare market, offering a vending machine friendly option that could be quickly assembled, then recycled once done.

Currently a student project, the Kranium is an important step forward, in terms of safety, ease of distribution, and sustainability. Here’s hoping it goes beyond a student’s good idea and actually makes it to market!

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Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.


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  • cite your sources

    Please cite the studies and/or sources regarding helmets only protecting a person’s head in 16% of crashes.

    • Paul Arthur Smith

      I’ll leave that to the designer of this helmet, who was the one that cited this statistic. If you’d like to find out from him, his contact is on the Kranium site linked in the article. Meanwhile I’ll edit the article to reflect where I got this information. Thanks for the question.