London - A bike helmet made from paper might not sound like the most effective way to protect yourself on our busy roads, but this unlikely-sounding invention has just won its creator a major engineering prize.
The EcoHelmet opens out into a radial honeycomb pattern that is capable of absorbing a hard blow and spreads the impact evenly. A plastic coating makes it rain-resistant for up to three hours.
And after use, it can be folded – like a paper Christmas decoration – to a tenth of its size.
Isis Shiffer, 29, has now been awarded the £30 000 (R534 000) Dyson design prize. The industrial design student said she wanted to create a lightweight helmet that could be bought cheaply - about £5 (R90) - at bike rental stations if cyclists did not have their own headgear.
She got the idea while using so-called Boris bikes in London during a six-month study placement from the Pratt Institute in New York.
‘There were no easily accessible helmet options available,’ she said. ‘It was nerve wracking – especially going on roundabouts.’ Made of cardstock paper, the item is intended to be recyclable.
And tests at Imperial College in London showed it was as effective at protecting the skull as polystyrene headgear.
‘We dropped 4.5 kilograms of weight from a metre and it withstood the impact,’ she said. The helmet measures 300mm by 50mm when folded, so nine of them could fit in the space taken up by one conventional helmet. Although effective, the design is not intended for prolonged use, and may one day have an indicator to show when it has passed its useful life.
Shiffer is now working on an ultra-light adults’ scooter that can fit in a laptop bag. Inventor James Dyson said: “EcoHelmet solves an obvious problem in an incredibly elegant way.”