Ah, the thrill of speed.
Imagine zooming down a country road, your surroundings a blur of colors and abstract shapes in your helmet visor … Or racing down a snowy hill, rocketing forward through a blanket of white … Or whizzing by pedestrians and parked cars in the city.
Amateur and professional motorcyclists, skiers, and cyclists are familiar with these heart-pounding moments and the adrenaline rush. Extreme athletes take it even further.
For all these athletes, there’s one nagging question: what if I fall?
The thrill of speed is accompanied by the risk of a serious accident. That’s why (most) athletes use modern safety gear, from fundamental safety devices such as helmets and goggles to increasingly more advanced innovations. One of the latest advances: wearable airbags, an innovation made possible by plastics and airbag technologies, designed to give athletes a bit more peace of mind … as well as their families and loved ones.
Let’s take a look at examples for motorcycling, skiing, and cycling.
An Italian company has developed a wearable airbag system for use in motorcycle racing. A high-pressure plastic airbag is designed to deploy in only 45 milliseconds during a crash to protect the biker’s neck, shoulders, collarbones, and midsection. The manufacturer says the lightweight plastic airbag is strong enough to withstand crashes when inflated. The airbags are currently in use by professional and recreational motorcycle racers alike.
Similar technology is also helping protect athletes on the slopes. Professional alpine skiers hurtle down mountainsides at speeds of nearly 100 mph while negotiating bumps and sharp turns, sometimes in icy conditions. The world’s top competitors continue to push the sport to new levels, but at a price: crashes at top speed can lead to serious physical injury. The International Ski Federation partnered with the same company that created the motorcycle airbag (see above) to develop a plastic airbag vest that would deploy during a fall. Some World Cup skiers have begun using the vests, and the skiing industry is watching the results closely.
Airbag technology also is available to everyday bike riders. A Swedish company has created a wearable plastic airbag that looks like a fashionable nylon scarf. When accelerometers detect abnormal movement, the airbag inflates to envelop the entire head, similar to a helmet.
Accidents happen, and no safety technology can fully protect everybody. But whether you’re a skilled professional or just somebody’s loved one out having a little fun, it’s comforting to know that plastics and sports safety technology are continuing to evolve—helping support our desire for speed and safety.