The James Dyson Foundation announced on November 17, 2016, that the 2016 International winner of the James Dyson Award will go to Isis Shiffer for her original design of an Eco Helmet. This is a collapsible and biodegradable bike helmet that can be purchased from vending machines at urban bike stations. As a contest winner, Shiffer is awarded $45,000, while an additional $7,500 will go to the university department where she studied design and engineering. Sir James Dyson, founder and inventor of the award, praised the Eco Helmet that provided a cheap, simple, elegant, accessible, and very strong and sturdy solution to both head protection as well as something that can be easily carried around. People who don’t wear bike helmets often complain that the helmet is bulky and annoying to carry around especially when indoors.
Many will probably be surprised to find out that the Eco Helmet, in all its durability, is made entirely from recycled cardboard. It is so compact in its folded state that it can fit into a laptop bag since it is only the size of a large banana. It is durable enough to withstand and distribute impact for maximum protection to cushion the wearer’s head. The cardboard used for the helmet uses a honeycomb pattern design meant to absorb great impact and shock. Shiffer, herself a designer and ardent cyclist, was inspired to create the collapsible Eco Helmet after traveling for a year abroad where she rented bicycles in many different cities, but didn’t come with a helmet or didn’t even rent out helmets. She says that “riding without a helmet in a strange city can be a scary experience.” She decided to design and create a folding helmet that can be picked up in vending machines from the stations that rent out bikes.
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The idea that the helmet had to be collapsible or folding comes from the traditional helmet design that is bulky and no vending machine could ever hold one, let alone a large number inside its body. Of course, aside from being collapsible the helmet also needed to be strong to provide adequate protection. She discovered that recycled honeycombed paper is both lightweight and durable and can absorb impact very well. It is used in supply packaging for helicopter drops in crisis or war zones. But according to Shiffer, discovering the material would actually be the easiest part. The hard part was trying to design it so that people would actually want to wear it. In fact, the first design she ever tested resembled a pineapple, people wouldn’t want to wear something that made them look like an idiot. She decided to mimic the original design feature of traditional bike helmets, and this worked well. The Eco Helmet is a “one size fits most” and is designed to be used for several times before it is discarded. Hopefully, with the new funding she received from the award, Shiffer can turn towards actual production of the helmet and its vending machine that will dispense the helmet for $5 or even less.