Sweden has a great tradition in safety, be it in a car or on motorcycle and bicycle. Just to give you an idea, back in the ’50s Saab tested the structural solidity of its cars by letting them loose down a ski jump and then checked the deformation. Kind of extreme, but sure those old egg-shaped Saab sedans were among the safest cars in the world in a time when crash tests were not even considered in the homologation program for new cars. Jet and full-face helmets came with Bell, and I remember when great Dan Gurney first appeared at a racetrack (Watkins Glen 1967?) with his traditional black full-face helmet on, racing his Eagle F1 racer.
Since then helmets have vastly improved in terms of shell material, padding material, and configuration. It took a lot of research and experimentation, and unfortunately also the diagnostics of a number of casualties larger than we would like to count. Helmets have grown safer, but not safe enough, according to Swedish brain surgeon Dr. Hans von Holst, who started his research on brain damage caused by rotational motion during impacts.
In 1995 upon the evidence generated by his research, Dr. von Holst contacted the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm to initiate biomechanical research on head and neck injury prevention. This new research attracted the attention of Peter Halldin, a biomedical student who planned his PhD course on head and neck injury biomechanics. Halldin addressed the problem from a technical perspective in order to have a precise understanding of the mechanics of the accident and of the potential injuries it would cause.
This led him, and Dr. von Holst who was assisting him, to starting a research specifically aimed at defining a system that would meaningfully reduce the rotational acceleration and consequent damage to the brain. The brain is more sensitive to rotational motion because the brain, like water, is incompressible. Several researchers have linked severe brain injuries such as diffuse axonal injury and subdural hematoma to rotational motion transmitted to the brain from angled impacts.
The first prototype of a MIPS-equipped helmet was tested at the University of Birmingham in 2000. The MIPS system consists of a very lightweight additional structure interposed between the head and the inner padding of the helmet. This structure keeps the head separated from the helmet and prevents rotational acceleration being transferred to the head, independent of the impact angle.
This inner structure does not interfere with the protection from linear acceleration impacts, while the research showed that MIPS could significantly reduce rotational acceleration otherwise transferred to the brain. In 2007 only one production helmet was equipped with MIPS; in 2017 the number has grown to 60 and at EICMA 2018 there were more brands presenting new MIPS-equipped helmets, such as Thor, Alpinestars, Scott Sports, Answer, Klim, KYT, Troy Lee Designs, Z1R, Moose Racing, Bell Moto, Fly Racing, Arctiva, Kabuto, O’Neal, and Fox Head. They were all displaying MIPS-equipped helmets at EICMA. It’s safe to say MIPS has made an impact on helmet technology.