Cycling helmets are really, really important. They’ll save your life. You should always wear one when you’re on a bike. But they’re also a right faff.
They’re big, bulky, a hassle to take with you once you’ve dismounted your cycle – and a cumbersome travel item for anyone looking to hire a bike in a city you’re just visiting for the weekend. Which was the exact problem that inspired Isis Shiffer to design the EchoHelmet: a folding cycle helmet made entirely from paper.
Rather than having to splash out on a new helmet in every city she visited, Shiffer looked to create an affordable alternative that would still ensure she was protected. Her design, made from a lattice of recycled paper, costs just $5 (£4).
Designed and tested at Imperial College London, Shiffer was able to subject her helmet to a variety of impacts – with an anvil.
“They have a test rig for helmets and the professor in charge of the lab let me test out a lot of materials,” she told the BBC. “It turns out it was a lot of fun. There is a frame with an anvil on the bottom and an accelerometer to measure speed and impact. It is so solid and everyone who had held it in their hands is surprised about how solid it is.”
Such is the simplicity of the EchoHelmet, Shiffer has been award the annual Dyson Award, netting her £30,000 to develop the project further. “EcoHelmet solves an obvious problem in an incredibly elegant way. But its simplicity belies an impressive amount of research and development. I look forward to seeing EcoHelmets used in bike shares across the world,” said James Dyson.
While Dyson is impressed with the concept, she’s aware that the wider public might be more reluctant to put their faith in a paper helmet, describing her invention as a “tough sell”. She’s looking to further develop the project with a waterproofing material, and has partnered with an LA-based company to tackle supply chain, marketing and fundraising. The helmet will only be safe for a limited number of uses, with the final design set to include a measure to indicate when it should be recycled – either a stripe that degrades when it’s time to ditch it, or a clip that stops working after a specified number of wears.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t leave any viscous paper cuts should you actually find yourself going head-over-arse on a hire bike.