Photo: Felizitas Gemetz for Fraunhofer IWM
We've covered all sorts of cycling helmets in the past. The Lazer helmet with lubrication between two shells, the Hövding Helmet, which is really an airbag for your head, the multisport Helium helmet that is certified not only for cycling, but also canoeing, and climbing, and the armadillo-style folding Tatoo helmet, to name but a few.
However, Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials, has this month, heralded what might be a real practical innovation. The smelly helmet. A film of microcapsules will release a stinky odour when the shock absorbent materials of the helmet are compromised by fractures.Sounds great, as it is hard to know if your helmet is otherwise in tip top condition. The general rule of thumb being that any expanded polystyrene foam type helmet should be discarded after a close encounter with a car or road. This way you'd have a better handle on when to retire your skid lid.
The downside is that the technology employs a layer of melamine formaldehyde resin to enclose the micro-capsules to keep them airtight and mechanically sealed. Formaldehyde is the same toxic chemical that many jurisdictions consider carcinogenic.And the same substance that caused the US Federal Emergency Management Agency so much embarrassment when the Center for Disease Control suggested Hurricane Katrina refugees, (especially children, the elderly and anyone with asthma or another chronic condition) should promptly vacate their FEMA supplied formaldehyde laden mobile homes.
That said, melamine formaldehyde is far more inert and save than its cousin, urea-formaldehyde. For this reason the former is allowed under Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification, whereas the latter is not. (See here for a PDF info sheet on formaldehyde from the USA National Safety Council.
Chemical caveats aside, the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials believes the concept would also work for motorbike and construction helmets. And could ultimately be applied to washing machine pressure hoses,as well as plastic water and gas supply pipes. Although not destined for commercial production just yet the application of pungent micro-capsules has adopted the cycle helmet to demonstrate the practicalities of the technology.
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