The Dawn of a New Helmet Paradigm

Digital modeling technology is helping make safer helmets 1 photo
The two-wheeled worlds might become a bit safer as motorcycle helmets are about to change and this is a thing that brings joy to my heart. Helmet law-opponents will most likely find yet another reason to bash wearing a lid and delve in some twisted statistics to discover new proof on how dangerous head protection in fact is, but really, I don’t care.
There are far better things to do than hearing their complaints on how helmets ruin everything and, frankly, it’s their choice. What’s really cool is that Bell seems to finally take a bold step in motorcycle helmet manufacturing and design, and it may be the best thing that happened to bike lids in quite a long time. Better than carbon fiber, better than the strongest composite materials, custom-shaped inner EPS lining might be the missing link. And I stress might, because things are still under development.

Introduced initially almost a century ago, motorcycle helmets have improved just a bit, if we are thinking about the basics. The last years however, seem to have been quite fruitful and bring new ideas that could lead to a major leap in protecting the riders’ heads. Spectacular development in the industry can be made with the use of the D3O polymer and with designs such as the 6D helmets, too.

However, I’ll start with the newest one, Bell helmets’ idea of building a custom inner EPS lining based on the shapes obtained from having the customer’s head scanned in 3D. Sounds like a bit of SciFi involved, but it’s only Sci, for science. Bell specialists estimate that a custom-shaped liner could reduce the impact energy transmitted to the rider’s head with up to 40%, which is really huge, considering that few gs can make the difference between Schumacher back to his everyday life and Schumacher in a coma forever.

Wait, what? 3D helmets?

Even though the whole technology behind the new helmet paradigm may seem a bit on the dark side of magic, things are fairly easy.

The first step towards the custom-fir EPS liners is knowing what they must look like and, for this, a technician will swing the “magic wand” of a 3D 360 scanner around the rider’s head. As some customers might have a Marco Simoncelli or Valderama hair style, the technician will help them use a small cap in order to avoid creating a 10XL helmet.

A computer interprets the scanner data and creates a 3D replica of the customer’s skull, which will be later used to craft the inner shape of the EPS liner. Including facial scans in the build is an exceptional idea, as some individuals have prominent cheek bones or jaws and, in some cases, this prevents them from being able to wear the desired helmet.
Of course, when dealing with premium lids, exchangeable cheek pads and inflatable elements can make amends to the comfort and fit, but on many occasions, they can’t. This leaves these guys with only one choice: picking the next bigger size helmet and making do with it. And this is a rather bad idea, as helmets that are too large provide reduced protection, and that’s a fact.

Using the head scan model, which is created on site, Bell can then craft a custom-fit helmet. The size of the outer shell will be chosen according to the manufacturer’s specs for the interior liner, and the custom EPS shell will then be loaded in it. Of course, special comfort liners will be created to comply with the new shape perfectly, but that was the easy part. All in all, you’ll be wearing a helmet that looks just like the ones on the shelf, but it will be a unique one on the inside. And this brings us to the next chapter.

Why a custom fit?

Two main reasons dictate in favor of the custom-fit EPS liner: safety and comfort. These two are intertwined and cannot be separated, but the relation between them is really easy to understand.

Staring with some motorcycle helmet basics, the outer shell protects against abrasion, direct sunlight, elements and objects that may penetrate the skull in case of an impact. The inner EPS liner, usually a two-density structure, helps absorb impact energy as a barrier between the head and the obstacle it is moving towards.

The EPS liner helps the head decelerate progressively, even though we’re taking about fractions of a second. As its first and softer layer compresses under the head’s momentum, it dissipates energy and reduces the impact force. And that’s it.
Now, a custom-fit EPS liner follows the shape of the head and provides a perfect supporting structure that enhances the contact area between the two. Since impact energy means pressure between the head and the object it hits, and this translates into force per given unit area, enlarging the area means less pressure. Now, the custom-fit shape does exactly the same thing, as it provides a slightly larger replica of your head’s shape, ensuring a “perfect match and fit” between the two, with only a few spots, if none at all.

This, in turn, enhances the overall fit and comfort, eliminating gaps or areas that squeeze your head in way past the comfort limit. Add in a soft liner and you’re up for a very snug fit, increasing the energy dissipation and wearing comfort. At the same time, the cheek and temple areas are now sculpted closer to the actual shape of the wearer’s head, making obtaining a perfect, comfortable, and safe fit much easier.
Bell Helmets also adds that the new 3D-scanned helmets can also benefit from a slightly reduced weight, as the manufacturing process will only use the needed amount of EPS to create the inner shell. While the impact force reduction is based on theoretical modeling and early results from the beta stages of this project last year, Bell admits that how much safer these helmets are is still to be determined.

The custom-fit helmets will still have to comply with all the safety standard requirements other Bell Helmets must meet or exceed, so you can rest assured they’re at least as safe as the normal ones. Bell will bring the 3D scanning technologies to 6 motorcycling events in the future, including the Grand Prix of the Americas this weekend in Austin, TX.

Future plans are to equip about 20 shops that sell Bell helmets with scanners and have things kickstarted. Bell does not have its own dealer network, so only a few select shops will receive this technology. The custom-fit helmets will be delivered in 6 to 8 weeks, and the price is said to be $999 (€720). Not cheap, but we’re talking custom lids, aren’t we?
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