I recently spoke by phone to Randy at the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. The reason? I wanted to know if molded pulp had potential as disposable head safety gear.
If you think about it, one of molded pulp’s key benefits is impact protection. Practically all of the pieces I’ve been working with have been highly engineered to protect contents from impact. And not just any contents – each molded piece has been specifically designed to fit and protect a specific piece of equipment.
So why not design molded pulp as protection for a human head?
Here are some of the potential obstacles that molded pulp must overcome, as detailed by Randy:
• Appearance. Consumers do not want bulky headgear. Anything beyond 1.5 inches gives people a “mushroom head” appearance. Best case for appearance is 1 inch thickness; at 2 inches and beyond, people will not wear the mushroom.
• Weather resistance. A bicycle helmet must be able to get wet and still protect. I believe that he said that a 24 hour immersion test was the standard that must be met.
• Quality control. The helmet must be produced to a very exact standard, not just for one piece, but for many many pieces in a huge factory run.
• G-force abatement. The helmet must meet specific g-force abatement tests, which drop helmets (with a headform inside) from a height of up to 2 meters onto an anvil.
• The strap. The strap must stay attached to the helmet under impact conditions.
• Low friction. The outer surface of the helmet bust be very smooth to minimize friction between the helmet and the road/curb/whatever. Randy said that a bowling ball had the ideal surface for a helmet.
Wow, that’s a long list of design specifications to be met, and there are still others. Yet I still feel that molded pulp has potential here to meet a need for a disposable, single-use helmet.
The helmet design I envision has two pieces: 1) a smooth, reusable outer plastic piece to provide weather resistance, strap attachment and low friction on an impact surface, and ; 2) an inner molded pulp liner to provide the g-force reduction.
It is an interesting design challenge. I wonder if a molded pulp manufacturer would be interested in taking up the challenge? I’m sure that the BHSI would be eager to lend a hand, and so would I.