One startup is using technology to reinvent a piece of cumbersome safety equipment -- with a fashionable flair.

Everyone knows that wearing a helmet is important while you're riding a bicycle. After all, that precious brain inside your noggin is pretty essential. But bike helmets, while much more fashionable than they used to be, are still fairly cumbersome and awkward, especially if you spend a lot of time making sure your coif is perfectly coiffed and would like it to remain so.

In 2005, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, then industrial design students at the University of Lund in Sweden, decided to tackle that issue in their master's thesis. It was a response to a new law mandating helmet use for cyclists under age 15, and the subsequent debates over whether a similar mandate for adults should be implemented. The problem, the women proposed, was to create a helmet that adults would be happy to wear, whether they were required to do so or not.

Their idea was to create an airbag "helmet" that is actually a collar worn around the neck, which inflates instantly during a crash. The device is called the Hövding.

The team contacted a head trauma specialist, studied countless hours of bicycle crash data and staged their own controlled crashes to collect movement patterns. Test cyclists also gathered data about normal riding conditions -- the sorts of starts, stops and events that happen during everyday cycling. They then used this data to develop an algorithm that can distinguish normal cycling from accidents. After all, it wouldn't be helpful if your airbag helmet deployed when you bend down to pick up your keys, right?

Made of an ultra-strong, rip-proof nylon fabric, the airbag looks like a hood when inflated, giving the wearer greater coverage than a traditional helmet, as well as softer, gentler shock absorption. Unlike an automobile airbag, which deflates again almost as soon as it deploys, the Hövding is designed to remain inflated for several seconds, allowing it to withstand several impacts during the same accident.

Sounds kinda wacky, right? Check out this video:

So is it safe? The short answer is yes. According to the company's website, "Hövding is CE marked and has successfully undergone SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden's extensive approval process. CE marking is required for a cycle helmet to be able to be sold in Europe, certifying that the helmet complies with the requirements laid down in the EU's Personal Protective Equipment Directive." That means it meets or exceeds every standard for safety related to bicycle helmets sold in Europe.

Like a regular bicycle helmet, the Hövding can't be reused after it's deployed during an accident. But unlike a regular helmet, it might actually be able to help with future product safety developments. Inside the collar there is a black box that records 10 seconds of data on the cyclist's movement patterns from an accident. In the event of an accident, the company requests that you send the Hövding back to them so that they can use this data in further research.

Such a stylish and innovative device isn't inexpensive. One collar plus a colorful shell will set you back about $535, but some insurance companies will subsidize the cost of protective gear such as the Hövding.

Here's to safe, fashionable cycling.

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