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Bicycle helmets have long been both friend and foe to bikers. On one hand, everyone knows the dangers of head trauma and know that they need to wear a helmet to help prevent brain damage. On the other hand, many people find helmets uncomfortable, heavy, and ugly.  Some people even don’t like today’s aerodynamic helmets that are made from lightweight material and can be customized to some extent. However, thanks to 3D printing technology, a new type of bike helmet may soon be available. 

The Issue of Biking

Many people are turning to bicycles in large cities because of traffic congestion. It’s much faster to ride a bike than it is to sit in traffic for hours, especially during a busy work day. But with these changes also come safety issues. Drivers don’t always see bikers, and cyclists aren’t nearly as protected as those in vehicles are. This has led to an increase in bicycle-related injuries and deaths. In Great Britain alone, the number of serious bicycling injuries in the past decade has reached over 26,000. Many of these injuries involved bikers who were not wearing helmets or who were wearing very low quality helmets that did not provide the protection necessary.

Using Supercomputing and 3D Printing

At Cardiff University in Wales, a team of scientists led by Dr. Peter Theobald and Dr. Philip Martin has created a series of algorithms for a supercomputer than can be used to model how various materials will protect a person’s head and brain react when they strike the ground.  After 3D printing a material or even full helmet, the supercomputers will analyze it and create a full model of how the material will perform on impact. The team will then be able to adjust the structure of the helmet and 3D print another model. They will continue to test and adjust their models until they’ve created what could very well be the safest bike helmet in existence.

The study is being done in collaboration with HPC Wales, the national supercomputing provider.  HPC Wales works with a number of research teams and businesses to use supercomputers to solve problems and develop solutions to needs in a faster, more controlled environment. They currently have more than just the 3D helmet project in the world—one of their other projects is researching how to improve the Cardiff bus routes, while another studies stroke rehabilitation methods.

Brain Rotation

What brought on this research into bike technologies? Dr. Martin and Dr. Theobald noted that current bicycle helmets try to cushion the head, but that may not actually be the best way of protecting the brain. Studies show that brain trauma is most often caused by the brain rotating during impact, which it does naturally.  By creating a helmet that actually lets the entire skull rotate, it’s possible to prevent the rotating brain from striking the inside of the skull. The idea is to take what the brain already does and add an additional layer of protection. 

Faster Research

This research could have been done in a different way, just as different technologies used in cycling helmet design have been tested over the years. However, with the assistance of the supercomputer, the time it takes to test the different materials is dramatically cut down. This will result in useable helmets going into use much more quickly, which could save lives. The technology could also be used down the line to create other safety products like new bike clothing that provides better protection from road rash.

Customization

While 3D printing and supercomputers allow us to learn how tech makes cycling safer, that’s not all they do. Once the final tests are done and these new bike helmets are available to the public, bikers may be able to completely customize the final look of them. Because they’re created using 3D printers, there’s no reason why bikers couldn’t have input in to the final design. They could change the colors, add images or words, or even change up the cosmetic look of the helmet by adding extra fins or ridges to it. You could create a truly unique bike helmet that would provide you with a great amount of protection.  This may be just the thing to get cyclists to embrace the helmet.

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