SenseTech HALO remote helmet impact sensor

Experimental technology that calls for help after a crash

Cycle helmets are rapidly evolving in terms of technology. Researchers in the US have developed a helmet with an add-on device that calls for help should it sense an impact strong enough to render a rider unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

The SenseTech HALO is now in the final stages of prototyping. One of the developers, Dr Timothy A Bauer, principal clinical research scientist at the University of Colorado, says: “Essentially, it isn't a helmet but an aftermarket device that can be used with existing helmets.”

The concept was devised by Biju Thomas, who is no stranger to bicycle racing. He’s a professional chef who serves up meals to pro riders. “I see this as a broad use item, not just intended for elite athletes,” says Thomas. “Our device is meant to be small and un-intrusive enough to be wearable in multiple activities whether wearing a helmet, headband, ball cap or similar — any activity where the user could receive head impact or injury.”

HALO could be useful for any sport where helmets are worn, but Thomas and Bauer had cycling in mind. The system they’ve developed combines a wireless device that fits into the air vent on top of a helmet with sensors embedded in the fused fabric. The device can transmit a signal via radio frequencies or Bluetooth technology to a rider’s smartphone.

Thomas thinks the concept could have a leg up on app-based programs such as the recently announced “black box” for riders. “Mounting a smartphone on the handlebar puts that device at risk,” says Bauer. “The mobile smartphones are big and bulky to put on the handlebars, but not so big they can’t be stashed in a pocket. The HALO system can run in the background, while the phone could be anywhere on your person.”

The technology is aptly named, as it could prove to be a guardian angel in the event of a crash, ensuring that an injured rider receives medical attention during the golden hour – the one-hour window after injury that's considered crucial in saving lives. If it senses a bad impact, the SenseTech hardware could call local emergency services, as well as being designed to work with third-party response systems such as invisibleBracelet, Road ID and MedicAlert.

“Unlike helmet mounted cameras and similar items that have appeared on the roads and trails in the recent years,” says Thomas. “This device will not be noticeable at all to anyone.” The system can be turned off remotely should you accidentally drop your helmet or have a spill that doesn’t warrant emergency help.

The feasibility testing stage has now ended and SenseTech are looking to start production of beta units soon. The system will be tested in cycling this summer and then transition to ski and snow sports in the winter.

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