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Invisible Helmet: Great Technology, Bad Marketing 31

Hovding - The Invisible Helmet

The Invisible Helmet – Photo from hovding.com

For several months now, the “Invisible Helmet” video has been making the rounds. It has been forwarded to me several times and hailed by some friends as “brilliant” and “ingenious”.

I have been asked several times what I think of the idea. Sometimes when I am asked certain questions, I preface my answers with “I’m not sure you are going to like what you hear; are you sure you want me to answer your question?”

Well this is again one of these cases where those who are hailing the invisible helmet as the best invention of the 21st century aren’t going to like what I have to say.

First, a little bit about the invisible bike helmet (also known as the “HOVDING”). As the name alludes, it doesn’t look like a helmet at all. It wraps around your neck, almost like a thick scarf, and when your head rotates in an abnormal way, the sensors on the device trigger an airbag to open around your head in just 0.1 seconds. It is basically an airbag for your head.

I will first start out by saying that I think the technology in the invisible helmet is nothing short of amazing. It took almost a decade of research by its Swedish inventors to develop and test this device. Preparing it to ship to market is distinctly impressive.

My issue with the helmet is in the marketing. The Hovding uses fear-based marketing to target an already relatively safe activity. The promotional video for the invisible helmet shows a cyclist getting hit from behind by a car over and over again.

As a bicyclist, after watching the video, I may come to the conclusion that I absolutely need to spend $600 on this helmet to protect myself. Or, I may come to the conclusion that urban bicycling is far too dangerous and I need to quit bicycling for my own personal safety.

Whichever conclusion I come to, there really aren’t any winners. If I buy the helmet, I’m going to be out $600 and still fearful for the rest of my body that is apparently inevitably going to be crushed by a car at one point or another.

If the makers of this helmet had targeted other relatively safe activities other than urban bicycling, it would be easier for me to support the product. If the marketing video had shown a pedestrian being hit by a turning car at an intersection, or if it had shown a driver in a collision on a highway, then I would feel differently about the product.

But the makers decided to target bicycling, making it appear dangerous in order to sell these helmets.

Perhaps instead of targeting bicyclists, they could have targeted skiers and snowboarders. Surely the invisible helmet would be much more beneficial for a skier or a snowboarder than a slow-pedaling urban bicyclist.

The truth is, urban bicycling is an already relatively safe thing to do – especially in places where there is great bicycle infrastructure.

If recent trends are any indication of what the future holds, we are moving in the right direction to make bicycling even safer here in North America. Even cities in Europe that weren’t bike-friendly are transforming themselves; Paris is a prime example.

If spending $600 on this helmet makes people feel safer on a bicycle, then I am fully supportive of their decision to buy this helmet.

But the video that promotes this helmet does not at all give me the “warm and fuzzies” about bicycling.

If we resign ourselves into believing that being hit by a car is an inevitability, then I think we have bigger issues than just protecting our heads with a $600 helmet.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/John.S.Rawlins John Rawlins

    I understand that the majority of vehicle occupants killed in road accidents die as a result of injuries to the head. So why is there no national campaign to make people wear helmets inside vehicles (as racing drivers do). The answer is obvious. Such a law would be very unpopular (because helmets can be hot, awkward, and tend to mess up your hair) and so many people would stop riding in vehicles. The same arguments can be applied to bicycle helmets.

    • dr2chase

      Helmets in cars are not that hot; there’s minimal physical exertion involved. And you don’t have to worry about looking like a bobble-head in public, because you’re already wearing a car; it’s not like anyone can easily see the helmet, never mind how fat the car makes you.

      And since there’s no public-health problem with discouraging driving, there’s no reason not to make this regulation. Same roads, same rules. Drivers and passengers in cars need the same helmet laws as cyclists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/John.S.Rawlins John Rawlins

    I understand that the majority of vehicle occupants killed in road accidents die as a result of injuries to the head. So why is there no national campaign to make people wear helmets inside vehicles (as racing drivers do). The answer is obvious. Such a law would be very unpopular (because helmets can be hot, awkward, and tend to mess up your hair) and so many people would stop riding in vehicles. The same arguments can be applied to bicycle helmets.

  • dr2chase

    Helmets in cars are not that hot; there’s minimal physical exertion involved. And you don’t have to worry about looking like a bobble-head in public, because you’re already wearing a car; it’s not like anyone can easily see the helmet, never mind how fat the car makes you.

    And since there’s no public-health problem with discouraging driving, there’s no reason not to make this regulation. Same roads, same rules. Drivers and passengers in cars need the same helmet laws as cyclists.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeBikeYYC BikeBike Inc.

    I’d love to see this airbag technology on the front of cars where it belongs.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeBikeYYC BikeBike Inc.

    I’d love to see this airbag technology on the front of cars where it belongs.

  • AndrewRH

    I wonder what the weight of this invisible – but not weightless – device is? What strain would it put upon your neck? ie Would it cause a ‘slipped’ (prolapsed/herniated) disc in the cervical spine, for example?

  • AndrewRH

    I wonder what the weight of this invisible – but not weightless – device is? What strain would it put upon your neck? ie Would it cause a ‘slipped’ (prolapsed/herniated) disc in the cervical spine, for example?

  • Chris Chapman

    Personally, over my cycling career (which has been on an indefinite hiatus for the past 20+ years), it wasn’t the cars hitting me but me hitting the cars. Not sure the Hovding helps in those scenarios.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      I think it would inflate even if you crashed into a car – as long as there is enough rotation/force I suppose. So I think it would help in those situations too, unless it was just a minor low-speed collision.

  • Chris Chapman

    Personally, over my cycling career (which has been on an indefinite hiatus for the past 20+ years), it wasn’t the cars hitting me but me hitting the cars. Not sure the Hovding helps in those scenarios.

  • http://www.fullfat.ca Octavian

    Not practical for skiers/snowboarders. There is inherently a lot of falling in those sports and you wouldn’t necessarily want this to deploy each time.
    Regarding pedestrians, it could be cool if you live in a place that has a high rate of car-pedestrian collisions, but pretty useless otherwise.
    Regarding drivers, it would probably impede neck movements, causing a situation of decreased visibility. It would also cause the wearer’s head to be further forward than normal, since the back of the device would hit the car seat and/or headrest.

    The makers of the helmet are probably cyclists who have experienced frustrations with regular helmets. They are not fashionable and kind of annoying. So they decided to solve the problem. I think they did it in a pretty admirable way, but the tech does have many limitations. For instance, what do you do in the summer? Wearing a scarf around your neck is probably just as uncomfortable as a helmet on your head in the heat of July.

    At this point, they should work on the volume of the thing. It seems pretty bulky by any standard.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Having this helmet pop up multiple times going down a ski hill would add an element of excitement to skiing, no? ;)

      • http://www.fullfat.ca Octavian

        I don’t think it works that way. Once the airbag goes off, you’d have to buy a new device.

        • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

          I know, I was just kidding :)

  • http://www.fullfat.ca/ Octavian

    Not practical for skiers/snowboarders. There is inherently a lot of falling in those sports and you wouldn’t necessarily want this to deploy each time.
    Regarding pedestrians, it could be cool if you live in a place that has a high rate of car-pedestrian collisions, but pretty useless otherwise.
    Regarding drivers, it would probably impede neck movements, causing a situation of decreased visibility.

    The makers of the helmet are probably cyclists who have experienced frustrations with regular helmets. They are not fashionable and kind of annoying. So they decided to solve the problem. I think they did it in a pretty admirable way, but the tech does have many limitations. For instance, what do you do in the summer? Wearing a scarf around your neck is probably just as uncomfortable as a helmet on your head in the heat of July.

    At this point, they should work on the volume of the thing. It seems pretty bulky by any standard.

  • AriShavit

    excellent post James.

  • AriShavit

    excellent post James.

  • http://profiles.google.com/toddedelman1 Todd Edelman

    Not just fear, but arrogance. I politely asked some questions but they were answered with smarmy comments like “it’s space age solution in a scarf” and they refused to respond to comments that 600 dollars just makes it safety narcissism, and my suggestion that they make it cheaper somehow for poorer people was also ignored (I believe the high price is much more about recouping developments costs and paying back investors then it is for the actual production cost of each unit.)

  • http://profiles.google.com/toddedelman1 Todd Edelman

    Not just fear, but arrogance. I politely asked some questions but they were answered with smarmy comment like “it’s space age solution in a scarf” and they refused to respond to comments that 600 dollars just makes it safety narcissism, and my suggestion that they make it cheaper somehow for poorer people (I believe the high price is much more about recouping developments costs and paying back investors then it is for the actual production cost of each unit.)

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Having this helmet pop up multiple times going down a ski hill would add an element of excitement to skiing, no? ;)

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    I think it would inflate even if you crashed into a car – as long as there is enough rotation/force I suppose. So I think it would help in those situations too, unless it was just a minor low-speed collision.

  • TKeen

    …no mention of how you un-deploy the Hodving once it’s gone off. At $600 per, it should be good for more than one use.
    Be that as it may, the first video paints the two inventors as being pro-cycling, as well as fighting sexism in the workplace. Good for them. But for that price, I’d want all-over body protection, not just the head. Make me look like the Michelin man when that sucker goes off!

  • TKeen

    …no mention of how you un-deploy the Hodving once it’s gone off. At $600 per, it should be good for more than one use.
    Be that as it may, the first video paints the two inventors as being pro-cycling, as well as fighting sexism in the workplace. Good for them. But for that price, I’d want all-over body protection, not just the head. Make me look like the Michelin man when that sucker goes off!

  • http://profiles.google.com/har.3036 Har Davids

    If cycling is as dangerous as portrayed in these clips, I’ll get rid of my bike as soon as possible. It’s fear-mongering, nothing else. And, as usual, the onus is with the cyclists, who seem to have the nerve to take over the public roads at the expense of the suffering motorists; and we all know who were there first, after the pedestrian. Anyone who thinks urban mobility can only be achieved by promoting the use of cars is a moron or a liar. It’s too expensive, polluting, and takes up a lot of space. And scaring people into cars isn’t really helping either. We pay about € 1,80 a litre at the pump; that might help finish the suffering of the car-obsessed.

  • http://profiles.google.com/har.3036 Har Davids

    If cycling is as dangerous as portrayed in these clips, I’ll get rid of my bike as soon as possible. It’s fear-mongering, nothing else. And, as usual, the onus is with the cyclists, who seem to have the nerve to take over the public roads at the expense of the suffering motorists; and we all know who were there first, after the pedestrian. Anyone who thinks urban mobility can only be achieved by promoting the use of cars is a moron or a liar. It’s too expensive, polluting, and takes up a lot of space. And scaring people into cars isn’t really helping either. We pay about € 1,80 a litre at the pump; that might help finish the suffering of the car-obsessed.

  • http://twitter.com/MegLikesBikes MegO!

    Did any one else first think that this is an amazing video about female entrepreneurs?

    I was so inspired and proud of these women who spent 7 years on research and raised 10 million in capital I didn’t even notice becoming so scared I couldn’t ride my bike anymore!

    One of the greatest barriers to cycling for women is lack of perception of safety- so they are providing a product that could get more women to cycle. Being realistic about traffic accidents doesn’t automatically equate to fear mongering.

    Instead of criticizing the people who make these products, maybe keep our attention and critiques to our governments who need to provide us with good infrastructure. I live in Vancouver which is a relatively super bike city, we even just paid a ton of money to host Velocity 2012. Last year I pressed charges against a man whom in his road rage got out of his car and threw me off my bike, this was after him tailgating me at 35 km/h honking his horn because “he knew my bike type and I need to get off the road”. This was on a community lane way by a elementary school. Despite witnesses and evidence, the city decided not to prosecute my charges.

    WTF, right?

    Don’t tell me urban cycling is totally safe, that’s ignorant of the fact we have a long way to go. Give some props and recognition to the early adapters who are out there biking in conditions that aren’t completely safe but do it anyway. Give some recognition to amazing start-ups using technology and design to come up with the next level of cycling.

    Criticizing these women who are incredibly innovative and business savvy is not going to get us anywhere except for creating a divide in our community and fanning the polarities of the helmet debate.

  • http://twitter.com/MegLikesBikes MegO!

    Did any one else first think that this is an amazing video about female entrepreneurs?

    I was so inspired and proud of these women who spent 7 years on research and raised 10 million in capital I didn’t even notice becoming so scared I couldn’t ride my bike anymore!

    One of the greatest barriers to cycling for women is lack of perception of safety- so they are providing a product that could get more women to cycle. Being realistic about traffic accidents doesn’t automatically equate to fear mongering.

    Instead of criticizing the people who make these products, maybe keep our attention and critiques to our governments who need to provide us with good infrastructure. I live in Vancouver which is a relatively super bike city, we even just paid a ton of money to host Velocity 2012. Last year I pressed charges against a man whom in his road rage got out of his car and threw me off my bike, this was after him tailgating me at 35 km/h honking his horn because “he knew my bike type and I need to get off the road”. This was on a community lane way by a elementary school. Despite witnesses and evidence, the city decided not to prosecute my charges.

    WTF, right?

    Don’t tell me urban cycling is totally safe, that’s ignorant of the fact we have a long way to go. Give some props and recognition to the early adapters who are out there biking in conditions that aren’t completely safe but do it anyway. Give some recognition to amazing start-ups using technology and design to come up with the next level of cycling.

    Criticizing these women who are incredibly innovative and business savvy is not going to get us anywhere except for creating a divide in our community and fanning the polarities of the helmet debate.

  • http://www.fullfat.ca/ Octavian

    I don’t think it works that way. Once the airbag goes off, you’d have to buy a new device.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    I know, I was just kidding :)

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