Helmet lab interview

Prototypes of football helmets at the ICAT, Nov. 16, 2017.

Researchers at the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab have devised a new system to measure the effectiveness of a bicycle helmet.

The lab has tested 30 different helmets thus far, giving each a rating from one to five stars depending on performance. These ratings are intended to be straightforward and easy to use to ensure consumers can choose the best helmet for their needs.

The Helmet Lab is focusing on stopping cyclist concussions, which could create further difficulties in the event of an accident. Doing so has been difficult because reported cyclist concussions are rare and hard to document, unlike athletes who are constantly receiving concussions from impacts.

“It’s hard to get evidence for the extent and frequency of concussions in cyclists,” said researcher and doctoral student Megan Bland, “and we can’t exactly get someone to purposefully go out and give themselves a concussion.”

Because of this, the research team had to reverse engineer the impacts faced by cyclists by using data from other sports, such as football, to develop a system of tests.

The lab uses an angled block covered in a gritty substance, like sandpaper, to simulate the texture of pavement and asphalt and to provide a more accurate representation of real world conditions.

The use of a gritty surface helps the lab understand not only the vertical forces at work in a crash, but also the horizontal forces which may twist the neck or skull. The lab has found that helmets that use Multi-Directional Impact Protection (MIPS) provide the most protection from these collisions. MIPS uses Teflon to cause slippage between the helmet itself and the protective foam layer inside.

This technology allows the helmet to absorb horizontal energy that would otherwise be transferred to the wearer’s head.

Another way the lab tests for concussion risks is by using an angled impact face. An impact face is just the surface of a block that is hit by the helmet. The angling of the face creates a more realistic scenario for the test and allows researchers to make more definitive conclusions about the safety of the helmet. The lab also tests helmets at different speeds and weighs the results based on how realistic the speeds are for cyclists.

According to Blend, despite the accurate results of the lab, many companies do not like it because of its stricter safety rules.

Although the Helmet Lab conducted a large amount of research in the past, the research team has no intentions to develop its own helmets.

“We can’t create a new helmet design,” Bland said. “We want to stay neutral and have as little bias as possible. If we made our own helmet that would create bias and, in the eyes of manufacturers, invalidate our tests.”

The lab is currently working with several companies to test their helmets and make cycling safer.

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