By: A.V. Schmit
If you’ve been helmet shopping in the last few years, you have no doubt seen the little yellow circle that says, “Mips” on some of the helmets and boxes. What is Mips® and why should you care?
MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) was developed in Sweden, Stockholm to be exact, by a neurosurgeon and an engineer. The technology represents the intersection of academic research and industrial engineering.
The research, begun in 1995, was led by Hans von Holst of the Karolinska Institute, a practicing neurosurgeon, and Peter Halldin, an engineer with a background in aeronautics. Von Holst had witnessed the devastating aftermath of numerous Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) while performing brain surgeries on his patients. This inspired him to begin looking for ways to ameliorate these types of injuries.
By examining the design of commercially available helmets, he was soon convinced that the currently crop of helmets were not providing sufficient protection against brain injuries. Especially those involving rotational forces or secondary impacts after an initial impact.
He then contacted the KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) about initiating a research project focused on the prevention of head and neck injuries. That’s when he was introduced to Halldin who was at the time a student at the institute.
Halldin then commenced a PhD program studying biomechanics in order to investigate the problem and work on engineering a solution. Together they identified the way the dura membrane was critical to the brain’s ability to slide within the skull in order to prevent concussions.
They hypothesized, if a low-friction area could be created between the head and the helmet, rotational force, especially from an oblique (or angular) impact like that of a cyclist falling off a bicycle, could be reduced. They enlisted the help of Nigel Mills, who had access to the types of testing equipment they would need to prove their theory was correct.
During the same time period, Svein Kleiven also a PhD student at the institute, had begun work on developing an FE (Finite Element) model of the human brain. It has since been recognized as the highest fidelity computer / mathematical model of the human brain ever created. This model proved to be a key research / simulation tool for Mips®, as it made it possible to visualize and measure the effects of Mips® safety system in a variety of collisions.
Human cadavers and, in some cases, living subjects would have been used for this type of analysis, but because of ethical reasons, availability and variability in experimental results, the FE computer model is infinitely preferable.
Researchers and product testers can run an infinite number of simulated crash experiments without cracking any skulls. Now I know what you are thinking, “What about all those out-of-work crash test dummies?” Fret not, the FE model Kleiven developed is only for the brain, it will be some time before a complete FE model of the whole human body will be available. And Mips® and the bike helmet manufacturers still use synthetic human heads in testing.
The results of their research, a 50% reduction in rotational forces as a result of a crash. This led them to publish their results in 2001 and apply for a patent in 2002 which was granted in 2003. This led to the formation of Mipscorp, the company responsible for bringing Mips® technology to market through its brand partners.
Mips has become bicycle industry’s defacto answer to mitigating rotational forces on the brain in the event of a crash. When a cyclist falls, their head often impacts a solid surface at an angle. This angular impact creates a rotation in the brain, which has been proven to have significant potential to cause concussions and TBI’s.
Scott Sports was the first helmet manufacturer to integrate Mips® into their ARX helmet design, with other manufactures soon to follow. Now, Giro, Bell, Scott, POC and other bicycle industry leaders have integrated Mips® into their helmet designs.
How does Mips® technology protect the brain in a crash?
As of 2016, more than 28 helmet manufacturers had integrated Mips® into their product lines, with a corresponding number of 1.7 million units featuring the revolutionary technology.
Well, there you have it… If a Mips® technology helmet can offer as much as a 50 percent reduction in rotational forces on your brain in a crash. Maybe we should all care what kind of helmet we wear.