Any motocross racer knows how important it is to wear a helmet. In order for a helmet to withstand high-speed impacts, however, its ability to soak up low-speed impacts is somewhat compromised ... and low-speed impacts, even though they don’t sound quite so nasty, can still cause concussions. The ATR-1 helmet by 6D uses a series of elastomer shock absorbers to handle those hits, while reportedly still providing adequate protection against the big ones.
Ordinarily, a helmet consists of an outer shell and an EPS foam liner. In order to stand up to the force of high-speed impacts, that foam needs to be fairly hard. Unfortunately, at lower-speed impacts, that hard foam allows much of the energy to travel through into the wearer’s head. Although the advent of multi-density foam has taken care of that problem somewhat, the designers of the 6D claim that their system works better.
The ATR-1 still has an exterior carbon fiber/Kevlar/fiberglass shell adjoined to a layer of EPS foam. A second layer of foam, nested beneath that outer layer, cradles the wearer’s skull. Between the two layers of foam, holding them apart from one another, are an array of elastomer dampers. Besides being able to squish straight down, those elastomers can also stretch sideways in any direction. While the dampers absorb energy from low-speed impacts, the foam is still sufficient to take up the additional energy of higher-speed impacts.
Additionally, however, the dampers help protect against rotational injury.
In a normal helmet, the shell, foam, and rider’s head are all joined together. When the outer shell suddenly catches against the surface of the road (or something else) at an angle, inertia causes it to be violently tugged to one side ... taking the rider’s head with it. Because the brain “floats” within the skull, it moves a millisecond after the rest of head in the event of such a sudden rotation. This results in the shearing of nerves and blood vessels, which can in turn lead to severe brain damage or even death.
Because the ATR-1’s dampers stretch sideways, however, they take up much of the initial angular acceleration that would otherwise going into twisting the head. According to 6D, tests have shown that the ATR-1 can reduce angular acceleration of the head by almost 81 percent over conventional helmets. Lazer’s SuperSkin helmets are also designed to limit rotational injuries, although they do so via a flexible outer skin that slides across the underlying hard shell.
The ATR-1 weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lbs) and is priced at US$745. More information is available in the video below.