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IIT Students Make An Inflatable Airbag Helmet To Reduce Head Injuries In Road Accidents

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Wearing a helmet is the single most effective way of protecting oneself from head injuries while they’re riding a motorcycle. Majority of deaths in road accidents in India are caused by head injuries, and helmets play a crucial role in combating these.Three B.Tech students from IIT Roorkee – Rajvardhan Singh, Sarang Nagwanshi and Mohit Siddha recently developed an inflatable airbag helmet to combat the same, under the guidance of Professor Sanjay Upadhyay. The idea was to develop helmets that would not be too expensive and would reduce the chances of injury due to accidents by a huge margin.

These helmets are being touted to be four times more effective than conventional helmets.

I got in touch with Rajvardhan Singh to know about these helmets and how they combat the risks associated with road accidents.

Simran Pavecha (SP): Hi. Could you describe your project in detail?

Rajvardhan Singh (RS): So, as you know helmets are very crucial whenever an accident happens. But generally, youngsters or teenagers, and even older people avoid it, and one of the genuine reasons is that it obstructs the field of view. So, that was the starting point of devising such a device and also because the conventional helmet cannot save you from the acceleration or the jerk that you face when you are in an accident situation because they’re made from solid material and the material has the constraint to store some energy. But, when we use inflatable material or an inflatable structure like we do, it increases the capacity to store energy or reduces acceleration. So, it also reduces the injury on/in your head. So, the helmet reduces the chances of not only exterior injury, but also internal injuries which are more dangerous than the physical injuries. That’s the USP of the product.

SP: How does your project change the current state of affairs? Can you explain it in simple terms?

RS: You need to understand how collision works. When you bang your head into a wall, your velocity reaches to zero suddenly and, that is called acceleration because your velocity has changed. The larger the change, the larger is the acceleration and the more it impacts your head. The jerk and the acceleration are the parameters that cause the injury. So, the lesser the acceleration, no matter what the velocity was, the lesser will be the injury and the change in the unit time.

If you collide with a wall, you will suddenly come down to zero velocity. But, as gradual as it can be, it will be better for you. And, that is what this product does. It reduces the acceleration by increasing the time of your stopping – you are travelling at a certain velocity, and then you stop. But, it increases the time of your collision, and in the mean time absorbs the kinetic energy that converts into potential energy. The product absorbs it and then it turns back casually.

So, the accident or the jerk is not as intense as it would have been in the case of a conventional helmet or without a helmet. So, it reduces the acceleration up to four times; that means, it is four times better or four times more effective than the conventional helmet.

SP: How long did it take you to finish the project?

RS: So, the project is not yet finished. We are still working on it. You’re reading about it because we got something successful out of it. It’s not yet fully successful or finished, it’s in an early stage but it is something to look forward to. It has a potential solution for a massive problem.

SP: How supportive was your college?

RS: So, professor Sanjay Upadhyay was already mentoring in our BTP (B-Tech Project). So, he was always available for us. He didn’t intervene, but was always ready to render help and was very cooperative.

And, as for the budget, we have a budget allocated to every project. We had our share of financial resources from the college. We were helped by some of our friends from other branches too; all in all, the environment was very conducive.

SP: What was your inspiration in working towards this project? Where did the idea of working on this project come from?

RS: In the summer of 2017, we were doing our internship at ISRO and we were already working on inflatable structures. So, we learnt modelling and simulation over there and there’s a lot of literature available at ISRO, so we got access to that. We read about the application, benefits and advantages of inflatable over conventional material. So, that’s when we started working on it.

Inflatable structures do not really classify as new technology because they have been used earlier in 1950s, but not after that. They are used only in space applications, like in Echo 1 and Echo 2 which were satellites that NASA used in 1950s. They were partially successful and had a lot of potential. As their non-physical capacity increased, so the inflatable structures weren’t used anymore. They were not readily used thereafter, but now as the non-physical capacity has slowed to increase, so space agencies are looking forward to inflatable structures and so is ISRO. So, we were working on inflatable technology with the ISRO scientists and that’s how we knew about their potential.

But, our institution, like any other institution, does not have a dedicated facility for inflatable structures or for testing such devices. But, we somehow developed the tests that we required – like drop test or collision test. So, the lab was not available before you do the test, so we had to develop the tests. We even had constraints of budget, but we somehow managed to do the tests.

So, because of these constraints, we couldn’t use these structures in a full-fledged manner; we had to use inflatable structures to do some practical, and hence, we came up with this idea.

SP: What do you have in mind about this project further on?

RS: We are receiving offers to collaborate with renowned manufacturers of airbags and helmets. We look forward to collaborate with them and develop our product successfully. Once we decide on a manufacturer or agency to collaborate with, we’ll mutually decide what our plans are, draw timelines and we would also know how longer it would take to fully develop this project. But, at this moment we are just developing this product and it’s at the R&D (research and development) stage.

The helmets are made of Kevlar, a synthetic fibre which is also used t​​o make bullet-proof ​​jackets.​ The helmets will cost Rs 2000-3,000 (as much as conventional helmets), and will guarantee four times the safety.​


Image used for representation.
Image source: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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