Helmets are far from the brain buckets (basically shells) of times past.
Advancements in the use of foam and other insulations have come a long way in better protecting the brain, but it remains a challenge to engineer against high velocity impacts coming from different angles. It takes more than just adding padding; in fact, more padding can cause more damage as the material packs out over time, creating more space between the shell and head.
Enter MIPS, which stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection Systems. MIPS started in Stockholm, Sweden by five biomechanical specialists at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in 2001 to create the most cutting-edge brain protection system. With the help of neurosurgeon Hans Von Holst, who was fed up with patients still getting traumatic brain injuries despite wearing helmets, and researcher Peter Halldin, the MIPS technology was developed into a helmet that supports energy dispersion and absorption, rather than just buffering against direct impact.
MIPS utilizes a “slip plane” concept that uses a low friction layer under the shell that slides relative with the head during an impact. This motion redirects the energy in a crash, mimicking the brain’s own protective structure — the cushion of cerebrospinal fluid just inside the skull — ultimately reducing damage to the brain. MIPS also has been revolutionary in its testing methods, evolving from head-on impacts to the angled impacts that simulate accidents more accurately.
California helmet company Giro was one of the first brands to widely adopt the MIPS technology in its line-up. Together, Giro and MIPS have been making more advancements, the latest resulting in MIPS Spherical. The brain-saving tech works similarly to previous generations of MIPS by absorbing rotational violence with a low friction layer, but is made up of two EP-Premium foam layers that work as two parts, rather than a ball-and-socket style slip plane.
“There is no difference in the amount of protection between regular MIPS and Spherical MIPS,” Rob Wesson, Giro Director of Helmet Creation, told Digital Trends. “It is just a more elegant solution which allows use of fewer parts while adding the ability to custom fit.”
This new tech can be found in Giro’s Avance ski racing helmet, the first to use Spherical MIPS. The Avance will make its debut on USST racers Andrew Weibrecht and Travis Ganong as they race in the FIS World Cup Downhill Race held next week at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada on November 26.
Giro can use 3D scans of the wearer’s head to custom sculpt the Avance’s interior so it can fit precisely without pressure points.
“The Avance helmet instantly fit right out of the box,” Ganong told Digital Trends. “It’s the most comfortable race helmet I have ever worn. Also, compared to other helmets I have used, I noticed right away that I didn’t hear or notice anything when I hit gates, which allowed me to focus more on going fast.”
Having a fast line in ski racing and getting hit in the head with a gate go hand and hand. According to Giro, research shows that gate impacts can transfer upwards of 70 G’s to the head, greater than a direct punch in the face by an Olympic-caliber heavyweight boxer. To address this issue, the Avance features a “hammerhead” shape that adds more material to the high-impact areas.
“For all of our helmets, we look at the function first and then design the helmet to meet the needs of the consumer. Sometimes this results in radical new shapes,” said Wesson. Giro is known for its unique cycling helmet shapes, like the Aerohead MIPS and the Air Attack.
Lastly, the Avance has a TeXtreme carbon shell that uses larger pieces of fiber that require fewer binding fibers, making for a tougher composite. This gives the helmet more strength, with less weight.
Although no helmet can guarantee to protect you from traumatic brain injuries, MIPS can come close — and strives to only get closer.