A motorcycle enthusiast and motocross rider, Bob Weber always thought to himself there must be a better way to make a helmet.
One that would still provide the aerodynamic performance the sport required, while making it safer for the rider flying more than 20 feet in the air off of dirt ramps and taking hairpin turns at more than 50 mph.
So when the economy came crashing down on his job as a general manager of a motocross apparel company in 2011, the competitive racer decided it was time to make a better helmet for himself and other riders. And now his design could help keep professional football players safer as well.
Weber brainstormed helmet improvements while out riding his bike and soon the idea of a two-layer helmet with an outer shell and inner layer that would help mitigate the direct hit to the skull came to him.
He jumped off his bike, grabbed a napkin and jotted down his idea. After explaining his design to an engineer friend they began to work on what would later become known as Omni-Directional Suspension.
Two years later, Weber sold his first helmet and spawned 6D Helmets.
“I identified this issue of helmets not allowing the head to displace independently of the outer helmet shell, which is what they need to do to try to scrub off, or mitigate, the rotational acceleration that come with an oblique strike to the helmet surface,” Weber said. “That’s what we set out to do: uncouple the outer layer of the helmet and the helmet shell from kind of a pseudo inner helmet, which would be affixed to the wearers head.”
Using a slightly altered version of their Omni-Directional Suspension, 6D Helmets was one of 125 companies across the nation to enter a competition spearheaded by the NFL to create a material that would would make for a safer helmet.
The company along with partner Dynamic Research were recently awarded the grand prize in the NFL and National Institute of Standards and Technology Head Health Challenge III. The winners were also awarded $500,000 to invest in more research for further development.
With its two-piece system already in place, Weber said for the football helmets they altered the foam used in their single-impact design to create something that could withstand the multiple impacts that happen on the field.
“It was well suited to our system because we know our system worked, we just needed to work with other materials,” Weber said. “We got a lot from this study. We were able to study material that we normally wouldn’t use in our traditional helmet design.”
Weber said his company worked with materials that were already being used in NFL helmets, which he said gave him an advantage over other competitors.
The company first submitted its design in June 2015. Part of the process for the competition was to see how the material evolved over a year span.
During that time, 6D Helmets used its technology to adjust how they design their bike helmets to include more of the multi-impact materials.
As far as their design finding the way onto the field, Weber said that is long way off. He said the cost of producing a helmet is a multi-year and multi-million dollar investment. One that he hopes his company can be a part of.
“It is a very daunting task to improve the helmets. You only have so much space available and the helmets can only be so big before they create other problems,” Weber said. “The task is to use the space more efficiently and make the helmet manage the kinetic energy more efficiently.”
“If we don’t fix it,” Weber said about the need for more protective helmets, “the bottom will fall out of football because parents aren’t going to want their kids playing.”
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