A typical bike helmet has several problems: It usually doesn’t fit perfectly on your head, it’s too unwieldy to stuff in a bag when you get where you’re going, and once it wears out–or you crash–it ends up in a landfill.
A new design, grown from mushrooms and custom-shaped into a foldable geodesic dome the exact shape of your own skull, manages to solve all three issues simultaneously.
When you get off your bike, the helmet easily unfurls into a strip of small segments. “The long strip is pretty flexible, so you might imagine it being similar to stuffing a small sweater or shirt in your bag,” says Philippe Videau, an aerospace engineering student at UCLA who worked on the design as a part of a team of interns at Autodesk last summer.
“It doesn’t just fold one way, so it can be squished into different shapes for each bag or compartment,” says Becky Abramowitz, a mechanical engineering student at Penn, who was also on the team. “We believe that the hardest part of storing and toting a standard helmet is the round 3-D shape that doesn’t fit into most containers. By simply making it flatter, the helmet becomes much more compact.”
The tessellated shape of the helmet also makes it easier to get a perfect fit. Using Autodesk’s software, the students 3-D-scanned their own heads and then customized a unique tessellated pattern for each person. Unlike current bike helmets, which only fit if your head happens to conform to a manufacturer’s specs for “small” or “large,” each helmet is precisely tailored.
“I don’t seem to fit the norm since my helmet moves around like a Hula-Hoop on my head with even the slightest nod—tightening it only results in a more risky choking hazard,” says Videau. “In short, any deviations from this general geometry usually lead to a somewhat loose fit that’s not only uncomfortable but also potentially unsafe.”
If the concept is made in the future, someone might be able to walk into a bike shop and get their head scanned, and a new helmet printed on the spot.
“Our approach is mass customization–as both 3-D printing and 3-D capturing technologies are rapidly getting better, cheaper, and faster, we think that in the near future products can become highly customizable,” Maya Kremien, an MFA student in industrial design at California College of the Arts. “Specifically for helmets, customization would be valuable, since a snug fit can substantially reduce the risk for a serious brain injury from a bike fall.”
As a material, the designers turned to mycelium–a part of mushrooms–instead of foam. “The ultimate goal would be to create an entirely sustainable helmet, one in which all the materials are either reusable and/or biodegradable,” says Videau. While there are challenges to growing mycelium at scale, research is quickly growing.
Videau says he’s interested in pursuing the design. “Bike helmet design, whether pertaining to safety, comfort, convenience, or style, can substantially affect whether an individual decides to commute by bicycle—and I’m all for more sustainable and healthy transportation,” he says. “I mean, just think about having a mushroom as a helmet.”