By Diane Small
We don’t think about them much, but let us consider the design of an egg carton for just a second.
This common, practical packaging prevents the damage of delicate eggs almost perfectly. And yet, it’s made of nothing but paper.
Anirudha Surabhi has taken inspiration from this material–and the woodpecker–to create a new kind of bike helmet: one created from paper.
But how can paper be safer?
When you fall off your bike, you could potentially hit your head with a huge, sudden change of speed on impact. When you hit the pavement your hard skull will stop or decelerate quickly. However, being a relatively soft organ, your brain tends to keep going. It is exactly this action that puts you at risk of injury – from breaking blood vessels to damaging brain tissue, but a paper helmet creates a ‘mini crumple zone’ that absorbs some of the energy and gives your skull and brain more time to slow down before coming to a stop.
It’s those extra few milliseconds can reduce the amount of compression in the brain and potentially make the difference between brain damage and a mild case of concussion. Currently, polysterene is the main material used to make bike helmets, but Surabhi told the BBC he was inspired by the animal world to create something from softer:
“The animal that stood out was the woodpecker. It pecks at about ten times per second and every time it pecks it sustains the same amount of force as us crashing at 50 miles per hour. It’s the only bird in the world where the skull and the beak are completely disjointed, and there’s a soft corrugated cartilage in the middle that absorbs all the impact and stops it from getting a headache.”
In order to mimic the woodpecker’s crumple zone, Anirudha turned to a cheap and easily accessible source – paper. He engineered it into a double-layer of honeycomb that could then be cut and constructed into a functioning helmet with tiny little airbags throughout, so when you crash, the airbags pop–not your brain.
The paper bike helmet design has been tested to European standards, and when compared to a standard polystyrene helmet, the results are impressive–and the helmet is also cheap to make and eco-friendly to boot.