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ARTICLE: MIPS BORN FROM SCIENCE Written by Mike Emery. Excerpt from Transworld MX. Originally printed in the August 2017 issue.


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BORN FROM SCIENCE

BY MIKE EMERY

M I P S TA C K L E S R O TAT I ON A L F OR C E HE A D - ON

Motorcycle helmets have been around since the early 1900s, and in the past one hundred

The two who started it all, Hans von Holst

years or so, they have made incredible strides and advances in how well they protect our

(left) and Peter Halldin (right), stop for a

beautifully complex brains. Over the past two decades, however, a small group of passionate

quick smile amongst the test rigs.

individuals based out of Sweden have been striving to perfect a way to further protect the brain from rotational force and strain when an impact occurs during a crash. From this small group grew MIPS, short for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, and they are currently located in Stockholm. Their logo can be found on a variety of helmets, from bike helmets to motocross lids. We recently headed overseas to check out all of the information and tech nology behind MIPS, and the following pages dive deep into the company’s history, a tour of the facility, and our takeaways from the journey—all to gain a further understanding of what that small yellow MIPS logo means when you see it on a helmet.

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SCIENTIFIC ORIGINS Companies often need scientific re

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search to prove their product is worthy of purchase, but in the case of MIPS, they strived to develop a product for the primary purpose of saving human brains, while hoping their sales would come along with it. With a career as a neurosurgeon, Hans von Holst grew both saddened and frustrated at the number of patients he was encountering with traumatic brain injuries that he felt could have been prevented with bet

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ter helmet technology. Working closely with the KTH Royal Institute of Technol

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ogy in Stockholm, he aligned with KTH researcher

Peter

Halldin—now

chief

technology officer at MIPS—and began the process of creating what formally became known as MIPS AB in 2001. Through initial research and an entirely new testing rig featuring an angled im

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pact point, the group published their first paper titled, “A New Laboratory Rig for Evaluating Helmets Subject to Oblique Impacts.” It was within this pa

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per they explained the reasoning for testing helmets with a rotational impact in addition to the standard radial im

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pacts that had been around for years. Using a computer-based “finite element model” of the brain during impact test

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ing, the team was able to discover exact

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ly the type of movement they wanted to improve and how different impacts and angles affected brain strain. Their first product came years later in 2007, in the form of an equestrian helmet, but it was soon realized that MIPS would be better suited to work as an aid to es

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tablished helmet companies rather than compete against them. A few years later they jumped headfirst (pun intended) into the snow and bike markets by forming a consulting service for established helmet companies, and the resulting product was meant to reduce the impact and strain during a rotational impact. Working closely with multiple compa

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nies on development, an investment and backing from BRG Sports (former parent company of brands Bell, GIRO, and CPreme) in 2014 was a big moment for the brand in both monetary and industry rec

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ognition. Since then, MIPS has partnered with over 45 brands, made over 200 mod els with their liner inside, and produced over one million helmet liners. Their rapid growth is not only indication the company is heading in the right direction, but also that the helmet market is going through a significant period of growth right now.

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S O W H A T E X A C T LY I S M I P S ? Without a picture or good explana-

to the brain during an impact. In

tion, it can be tough to understand

short, it allows the helmet’s protec-

what exactly the MIPS layer is with-

tive foam layers to move in an om-

out seeing it. If you hold up any

nidirectional manner separate from

MIPS-equipped helmet—motorcycle,

the foam that is in contact with your

snow, bike, etc.—you will see a thin,

head and the MIPS liner.

bright-yellow piece of low-friction

The idea is to implement the

plastic that allows omnidirectional

liner into existing helmet designs

movement between the EPS foam

and work with companies like Fox,

and the pads that make contact to

Troy Lee Designs, and others from

the user’s head. It’s attached to the

the initial design stages of a helmet

helmet’s foam with multiple anchor

and through production. There are

points, all of which are dictated by

stipulations, however, and CEO Jo-

the helmet design and ventilation

han Thiel mentioned that MIPS won’t

ports, and secured in place with flex-

go to market with a helmet brand or

ible bands that clip to the MIPS liner

model if they haven’t seen at least a

and hold it all in place. Simple, right?

10 percent improvement on levels of

Try saying that to the scientists who

strain during a rotational impact test.

spent countless hours in the lab de-

Some brands see more improve-

veloping the technology!

ment than others, and the reality is

Still, many are left scratching their

that helmet options range greatly

heads, wondering what this liner ac-

in their design and impact protec-

tually does. Without diving into the

tion—none of which MIPS would dis-

publicly available detailed graphs

cuss, as they are not representatives

and testing data, it’s a way for the

of each brand. MIPS wants to make

rotational force to be absorbed and

sure that every helmet that they be-

redirected rather than transmitted

come incorporated into is safer.

BELOW: After the impact is complete, the head form relays all of the data to their program, and the 1,000 frames per second camera relays the video to the screen on the right so they can watch the impact and further analyze it against the data collected.

HELMET TESTING IN 2017 & BEYOND When you pick up any motocross

lished the standard of safety, but as

helmet that is currently available to

of today there are no standards set

consumers, each will have some sort

on rotational impact grading. What

of a certification. We could write an

companies like MIPS are doing is

entire article on the differences be-

setting precedent with scientifically

tween the certifications, but in short

proven data and test results found

there’s DOT (federally mandated in

through years of testing rotational

the United States), ECE (European

impacts. The future is unwritten, and

standard), and Snell (Snell Memorial

we wouldn’t be surprised if a stan-

Foundation) helmet certifications,

dard for such testing is developed

all of which are based on a pass/fail

in the coming years due to the over-

grade. These standards have been

whelming amount of advances in

around for years and certainly estab-

modern helmets.


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ABOVE, LEFT: The testing facility is spotless and well illuminated, and echoes with

Surrounding the test lab are a

the sound of every helmet test. ABOVE, MIDDLE: Shown here is the escape route of

few smaller rooms, one of which has

the bunker that’s deep inside the building, complete with working outside air moni-

a CNC machine that was being uti-

tor to see if it’s safe to exit. ABOVE, RIGHT: As you can see, there are boxes with “A”

lized to cut the beginning stages of a

and without. The “A” denomination stands for approved, meaning the product has

head form. This machine is also used

been approved for the market. The lower unmarked boxes are all current models

to make prototype pieces if needed

being tested and fitted.

while they are working with clients. Across from the CNC machine sits a 3D printer that is used for product development and was currently prototyping new MIPS fixation systems that are in development. The next room over houses the machine that’s responsible for creating in-house test layers, and Technical Engineer Amy Pomering was in the process of making one when we popped in. The finished head form is placed in the machine, and once the plastic layer is heated up to the proper temperature, the head form raises into the layer, which creates its shape. They later cut the liners as needed for testing. The approved and finalized product is manufactured in China, but the key to this facility is being able to make any product needed for testing and prototyping in-house. Three other rooms give an indication of the company’s values and focus of leading active and healthy lifestyles. An exercise room fills one corner and another adjacent room holds host to a table where a massage therapist comes in every other

THE FACILITY

week to work on the employees if

Pulling up to the MIPS facility, the

Weaving through staircases and

which simulates a hit to the top of

they are interested. The third room is

first thing we noticed was the build-

down narrow hallways, the tour of

your head and helmet at speed. The

bicycle parking, and it was packed.

ing that is coincidentally shaped

their building was impressive. They

second test rig is another drop down

“Just don’t ride to work without your

like the top of a helmet and a MIPS

even walked us to an active bunker

of the helmet with a 90-degree at-

MIPS helmet!” CEO Johan Thiel

liner! This was not intentional, but

that was a part of the age-old building,

tachment, causing a rotational impact

joked during the tour.

they did mention it was a cool bo-

and while we’re years removed from

that also simulates a realistic crash

The tour concluded with an in-

nus when the company expanded

the Cold War era, it still has a working

scenario. Capturing all of the action

depth lecture and Q&A with Hans

into this building. Walking inside we

air-quality tester inside. One room is

to replay the impact in slow motion

von Holst, who was captivating with

were greeted with a wall of helmets

filled entirely with boxes covered in

are 1,000 frames per second cameras,

his enormous bank of knowledge

on display that featured the famil-

markings that designate their approv-

a key to the visual end of the impact.

regarding brain research. Their study

iar MIPS yellow logo, and we were

al to market, and after we made our

These tests are violent and actually

dives deep, and the takeaway from

excited to see what the facility had

way into the main testing area, we saw

give you a chill when you think about

the session was that the passion is still

in store in the upcoming tour of the

another entire wall of both approved

a real crash or accident. The third test

there to improve, but they are sure

building. Extremely clean workspac-

helmets and in-progress helmets.

rig is a result of the company’s latest

that their research and results will be

es were common, and the aroma of

The MIPS test lab consists of three

endeavor, which is investigating and

well received by anyone who chooses

coffee and pastries filled the air. It

separate test rigs, along with multiple

researching ways to test football and

to take a look at the publicly available

was just about time for fika (Google

head-form options that are complete

hockey helmets more realistically. This

records. Our brains were completely

this—Sweden knows how to have

with all of their internal test sensors

is only in the research phase, yet it’s

saturated with new information and

a proper coffee and pastry break),

to see and hold—they’re surprisingly

exciting to know that the future of

knowledge, and we left their head-

and we were all ears to learn more

heavy! The first test is a straight drop

stick and ball sports is bright as far as

quarters with a positive feeling toward

about the brand.

down to a moving griptape surface,

helmet technology is concerned.

the future of head safety.


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THE VERDICT? As we mentioned earlier in this arti-

mend anyone go around purposely

cle, helmet technologies are rapidly

hitting their heads to test out how

progressing, and multiple brands

well a helmet works, we strongly

have made efforts toward improving

urge our readers to do their due

rotational impact protection. Brands

diligence in researching the vast

like 6D and Leatt are both utilizing

options and scientific data available

different systems and ways to ac-

when it comes to choosing head

commodate rotational impacts, and

protection. MIPS is a company with

when we brought the topic up in

the sole intention of finding ways

conversation, MIPS was happy that

to further protect the human brain,

this has become a proven topic of

and they have done just that for 20

conversation. They spoke of testing

years. We have a feeling you’ll be

the other options and systems, and

seeing their yellow logo and system

even stated, “If it’s available, we’ve

in many more helmets in the future!

tested it.” While we don’t recom-

ABOVE, LEFT: Pictured here is the very first basic prototype made during Peter’s initial conceptual testing, and from here it grew to be more spherical, and later adapted into a helmet. It’s obviously come a long way. ABOVE, RIGHT: Shown here is a close-up of the current system that anchors the MIPS layer to the helmet foam. BOTTOM: Pictured here in the Troy Lee Designs SE4 helmet, the MIPS layer is highly visible once the pads are removed.


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Article: MIPS | BORN FROM SCIENCE - Mike Emery, Excerpt from Transworld MX August 2017  
Article: MIPS | BORN FROM SCIENCE - Mike Emery, Excerpt from Transworld MX August 2017  
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