Microlattice padding makes for safer helmets

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Researchers in the US have created a new elastic microlattice material that could be used to make safer helmets for athletes, cyclists and soldiers.

(Credit: HRL Laboratories)

Described in the journal Matter, the material was developed by engineers at the University of California Santa Barbara, HRL Laboratories, and the US Army Research Laboratory. Its configuration resembles the wrought iron structure of the Eiffel Tower, allowing air to pass through and keep the head cool, but providing excellent shock-absorbing capability. According to the researchers, the microlattice material performs better than the polystyrene foams and vinyl currently used in sports and combat helmets.

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"Our technology could revolutionise football, batting, bicycle, and motorcycle helmets, making them better at protecting the wearer and much easier to have on your head due to the increased airflow," said lead scientist Eric Clough, materials science doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and researcher at HRL Laboratories.

(Credit: HRL Laboratories)

Three different variations of the padding were tested, first on their own, then in helmets under US Army test conditions. The best performing microlattice material absorbed up to 27 per cent more energy from a single impact than the current most effective expanded polystyrene foam. It also absorbed energy up to 48 per cent more efficiently compared to the top vinyl nitrile foam during repeated impacts. Furthermore, the material outperformed competing microlattice designs, absorbing nearly 14 per cent more energy from a single hit and staying intact to absorb the next round of impacts instead of irreversibly buckling after one hit.

"A noticeable percentage of improvement in impact absorption was something we were hoping for, but the actual numbers were better than we expected," said Clough. "Our testing shows that the pads work better than anything on the current market."

The sports technology company VICIS has licensed the microlattice pad technology through HRL and the researchers next steps will be to explore the material's use in military head protection.