Innovative headwear may save lives

People engaged in activities that necessitate the use of head protection could soon find themselves wearing a new helmet that mimics the protective design of the human head.

The helmet’s British inventor, Dr Kenneth Phillips, has used his knowledge of the human skull and of brain injury mechanisms to devise a radical new approach to safety helmets.

The Phillips Helmet could prevent significant numbers of deaths and severe injuries among motor cyclists and others as preliminary tests showed that the helmet gave 60 per cent more protection than conventional helmets.

Dr Phillips’ innovation is said to be the first major improvement to head protection systems in over 40 years, using a spongy outer layer that mimics the effect of a scalp.

Brain injuries caused by a blow to the head are largely the result of acceleration. Because of their varying densities, different brain tissues move at different speeds, tearing blood vessels, and the brain itself and its linings. Almost any blow to the head causes rotation and the potentially destructive forces of acceleration.

The human brain, protected by the scalp, a hard skull and fluid beneath it, can naturally withstand considerable impact.

Conventional helmet design has concentrated on the design of a hard protective shell and the cushioning beneath it, which absorbs energy. But Dr Phillips discovered that the scalp also limits injury to the head by both compressing and sliding over the skull, absorbing the energy from an impact.

Moreover, because the scalp is elastic, it helps the head to ‘bounce’ apart from the impacting object, limiting the duration of the contact and the resulting forces on the brain.

Having made this breakthrough, Dr Phillips and his small team devised a prototype helmet with an outer layer that mimics the effects of a scalp.

A spongy outer membrane was affixed to a conventional helmet with a lubricant that allowed it to move without friction on impact.

Preliminary tests by the UK Transport Research Laboratory showed that the helmet gave 60 per cent more protection than conventional helmets. This additional protection could reduce deaths and injuries by 20 per cent, saving the lives of 90 motor cyclists a year in the UK alone.

Dr Phillips has been awarded a £30,000 SMART grant as well as £100,000 by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to allow him and his team of experts to research the most effective materials available and construct further prototype helmets for testing.

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