Bike Shares Safer with Disposable Helmet
Lisa Lance posted on December 19, 2016 | | 9063 views

Isis Shiffer was traveling abroad, exploring cities by bicycle, when she encountered a problem. A self-described “habitual helmet wearer,” Shiffer was uncomfortable riding on city streets without one, but noticed a lack of available helmets for bike share users. “It was a big gap in the bike share ecosystem,” she said.

The EcoHelmet can be folded for easy portability.(Image courtesy of the Dyson Foundation.)
The EcoHelmet can be folded for easy portability.(Image courtesy of the Dyson Foundation.)

Her solution? The EcoHelmet, an eco-friendly, disposable bike helmet that could be purchased at a bike share station and easily carried in a backpack. She received international attention this year when she won the 2016 James Dyson Award for her design.

“The EcoHelmet solves an obvious problem in an incredibly elegant way, but its simplicity belies an impressive amount of research and development,” said James Dyson, in a statement when the award was announced. “I look forward to seeing EcoHelmets used in bike shares across the world.” Much of this research was made using engineering design software like SOLIDWORKS.

The design sprung from Shiffer's work at the Pratt Institute in New York, where she earned a master's degree in industrial design and is currently a graduate researcher. She spent a year in the school’s Global Innovation Design exchange program, which allows Pratt students to study in London and Tokyo.

“This is an eye-opening experience,” said Constantin Boym, chair of industrial design at the Pratt Institute. “By default, students get engaged in a comparative research of different cultures, design methods and educational approaches. The EcoHelmet originated from one of the projects Isis did at the Royal College of Art in London.”

Material Matters

The first step in Shiffer's design process was evaluating materials for the helmet. “It had to be biodegradable or recyclable—one or the other—or I couldn't justify making such a short-use product,” said Shiffer.

She decided on paper. “Paper is really, really good at absorbing impact once,” she explained. “And the honeycomb configuration that I came up with allows it to function as a helmet and not just a paper hat.”

The proprietary honeycomb pattern she designed has cells structured in a radial pattern instead of a parallel one, so when it's open it absorbs impact from any direction. The cells are always perpendicular to your head, and when the helmet is struck, the honeycomb configuration spreads the impact around instead of concentrating it in one place. Shiffer tested her design for strength and impact resistance in the crash labs at the Royal College of Art and the Imperial College of London, where she studied for a semester.

Shiffer designed the EcoHelmet with a proprietary honeycomb configuration that distributes impact in the event of a crash. (Image courtesy of the Dyson Foundation.)
Shiffer designed the EcoHelmet with a proprietary honeycomb configuration that distributes impact in the event of a crash. (Image courtesy of the Dyson Foundation.)

Next came the challenge of refining the look of the helmet. “The three-block construction is based off the old-school leather helmets that we see in bike race videos from the 60s and 70s,” said Shiffer. “Getting the looks nailed down was probably the hardest part.”

Shiffer started her career in fine arts as a sculptor, so she understands the importance of aesthetics. Early EcoHelmet prototypes involved paper clips and glue, with a long assembly process, but after she refined the design, the final version doesn't require any assembly at all. “You sort of put it on you head like a Mohawk and pull the straps down,” she said.

The result is a one-size-fits-most, fully recyclable helmet that folds neatly and can be stuffed in a backpack for easy portability. It's also an inexpensive product that can be sold at bike share stations.

“The James Dyson Award launched the EcoHelmet from Pratt into the world dialogue and onto real people's heads,” said Scott Lundberg, adjunct associate professor of industrial design at the Pratt Institute and Shiffer's thesis advisor. “Because of the James Dyson Award, Isis has sharpened her abilities to realize ideas, like the EcoHelmet, that make things better.”

Selecting the Right Software

Since 2013, Shiffer has used SOLIDWORKS design software; “it's my constant companion,” she said. In addition to her work on the EcoHelmet, Shiffer owns a design consultancy, Spitfire Industry. Many of her clients manufacture consumer products and need prototypes for campaigns.

Shiffer designs everything from consumer electronics to wearables medical devices. Products she’s designed include the ERRO Scooter, which folds into the size of a laptop, and the Bike Perch, a wall-mounted combination bike stand/tool chest.

She appreciates the user interface, power surfacing and the ease of design in SOLIDWORKS. One particularly practical benefit? “If something's physically impossible, [SOLIDWORKS] will tell you,” she said.

Shiffer contrasted SOLIDWORKS with Maya computer animation and modeling software, which she also uses. She praised Maya for its ability to create beautiful shapes, “but you can also make shapes that cannot be transferred to the real world,” she said. “For animation or something like that, that's perfectly OK, but for a designer like myself, that is not OK at all.”


Isis Shiffer, winner of the 2016 James Dyson Award, with James Dyson.(Image courtesy of the Dyson Foundation.)
Isis Shiffer, winner of the 2016 James Dyson Award, with James Dyson.(Image courtesy of the Dyson Foundation.)

Next Steps

As international winner of the 2016 James Dyson Award, Shiffer will receive $45,000 to further develop her invention. The attention she's received for the EcoHelmet is also helping her grow her consultancy business. “One great fallout from the Dyson award is people call me up for design projects who might not have heard of me otherwise, and they're some of the coolest clients I’ve ever had,” she said.

Shiffer hopes to bring the EcoHelmet to market by the summer of 2017. She's partnered with a company based in Los Angeles that focuses on marketing and sales, and she said she's currently finalizing patents and evaluating manufacturers. “Keeping the cost very low while still hitting helmet regulations is challenging, but we’re making good progress,” she said. “If we get it done by the summer, it will be a miracle, but it will be a small miracle.”

Boym encourages students and young designers like Shiffer to cultivate curiosity and envision ways to improve everyday objects. “Bicycle helmets have been designed and produced for decades, yet, in EcoHelmet, we see another way to rethink a conventional item and turn it unconventional,” he said.“Design has no limits. There is always room to change any situation into a better one.”

The EcoHelmet fills a gap in the bike share ecosystem. (Image courtesy of the Dyson Foundation.)
The EcoHelmet fills a gap in the bike share ecosystem. (Image courtesy of the Dyson Foundation.)

Ultimately, the EcoHelmet has the potential to improve the situation of travelers and bike share users worldwide, letting more people explore cities on two wheels. “I think it's great that we have the option to rent bikes in so many different cities, but I think a lot of people who are not habitual riders find it a little intimidating to ride on the street,” said Shiffer. “So having another layer of safety is important to get people out on the road.”

To learn more about SOLIDWORKS education programs, follow this link. If you are a researcher looking for access to SOLIDWORKS, click here.

SOLIDWORKS has sponsored this post. It has provided no editorial input. For more information, go to www.solidworks.com

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