As roads become more congested, fuel prices rise, and the environmental impact of fossil fuels begins taking its toll on this planet, there is an ever increasing populous turning to bicycles as their primary means of transportation. You see this generally in congested city landscapes, usually in the warmer months, where rush hour can be a nightmare.
Because of this influx of cyclists on our busy roadways, bicycle deaths and severe injuries are increasingly becoming a problem. Take for example Great Britain, which from 2005 to 2013 saw over 26,000 cyclist deaths or serious injuries occur.
A groundbreaking Welsh research project is looking to substantially reduce these tragic numbers, and is using 3D printing to do so. The project, which is being led by Cardiff University colleagues Dr. Philip Martin and Dr. Peter Theobald, seeks to use both powerful supercomputer algorithms and 3D printed material to develop customizable bicycle helmets which will ultimately possess improved performance during a major impact.
The project is being backed by High Performance Computing (HPC) Wales’ Research and Innovation fund, and, if a success, could drastically reduce the number of cyclist fatalities and severe injuries seen each year worldwide.
“It is scary how similar traditional bicycle safety helmets on the market actually are,” explained Dr. Martin, Research Associate at Cardiff University. “If you went into a helmet shop with an unlimited sum of money, you would come out with essentially the same thing, in regards to safety, as there is no superior product. The only real differences are in shape, colour and design – merely aesthetics. Everything is made out of polystyrene, which fails to offer adequate protection during ’oblique’ impacts.”
One of the main causes of brain trauma is when the brain rotates within the skull during an impact. The researchers are trying to reduce the rotation by designing specific helmets that allow for the slight rotation of the skull, which then allows the head to gradually slow down, reducing the rotation and impact on the brain. The supercomputers they are working with allow for the quick comparison of various 3D printed materials and their subsequent impact performances, ultimately providing the researchers with information to fine tune the mechanical structures of the 3D printed helmets.
“The use of advanced supercomputing technology has helped us speed up our research to produce results much faster than any system I have worked with before,” continued Dr. Martin. “Currently, without these supercomputing capabilities, we would have to physically manufacture every new structural design, and then test every single one of them in a lab, to evaluate their impact safety performance potential. This would be both extremely time and cost intensive, rendering the project unfeasible.”
This is just one of five projects being backed by HPC Wales, which seeks to help businesses engage better with their employees with the help of academia, and utilizes supercomputing to come up with innovative approaches to long time problems.
Let’s hear your thoughts on this project and its possible implications on the cycling community. Discuss in the 3D Printing a Safer Bike Helmet forum thread on 3DPB.com.