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This inflatable bike helmet launched a $50-million-plus industry

Sometimes radical design and super-experimental technology pans out. Who knew?

There’s just something about the Hövding inflatable bike helmet that seems too fantastical to be true. Its core pitch—of replacing your bike helmet with a fanny pack that wraps around your neck, tracking acceleration hundreds of times a second, then inflating instantly like an airbag in case of a bike accident—just feels like a product that’s perpetually three years around the corner, a Kickstarter campaign that would go viral and raise millions before ultimately ghosting.

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But in fact, the Hövding worked. Grounded in very legitimate science, and built with the help of a car airbag manufacturer, the first version came out back in 2012 for $600, and it’s been going strong since.

The Hövding 3 was announced just this month—it’s available now for $310—and along with that news, the company shared an incredible stat: 185,000 of its inflatable helmets have been sold to date, putting its back-of-napkin revenue well north of $50 million. And 4,000 of those helmets have actively deployed to save cyclists during accidents thus far.

So what’s new in the latest version? The Hövding 3 promises to be more comfortable to wear, with new, adjustable sizing to allow riders to get a more ideal fit. Its battery lasts longer (yes, unfortunately, it needs a battery), with up to 15 hours of active riding per charge. But the biggest update may be its Bluetooth-based smartphone connectivity. This connection allows your helmet to call an emergency contact if you are in an accident. And furthermore, by leveraging your phone’s GPS, Hövding helmets will begin to build a map of where bike accidents take place—which the company hopes can help inform infrastructure improvements at the city level.

[Photo: Alexander Crispin/courtesy Hövding]

“Cycling may be the answer to many of the challenges relating to the environment, congestion in cities, and health, and we want to take cyclist protection to the next level. We know that safety means more than just reactive protection. We need to be proactive to improve accident statistics,” Hövding CEO Fredrik Carling said in a press release.

Generally, these sorts of surveillance products are worrisome. But in the case of bike accidents, proper urban design—especially offering dedicated bike lanes—represents the single most significant reducer of mortality rates for bikers. Conceivably, this kind of data could spot more granular trends, like particularly unsafe intersections for rush-hour commuters.

In any case, given that the chief reason people don’t wear bike helmets appears to be their look—appearance is the number one reason that even our children don’t want to wear helmets!—the Hövding continues to be an enticing product, seven years after its debut. Vanity, thy name is “Airbag Face.”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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