Bean bag helmets: Vaco12 promises significantly better impact absorption
By C.C. Weiss
February 17, 2012
Originally designed for orthopedic rehabilitation, Vaco12 technology uses vacuum cushions composed of millions of small, round beads to provide better fitting, more protective sports gear. The beads simultaneously provide a snugger, more comfortable fit on your head and absorb impact up to four times more efficiently than traditional foam.
Skiing and snowboarding are highly progressive sports in which professional and recreational athletes are constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible. The types of freestyle tricks and big mountain descents performed today were but a fantasy a decade or two ago. With such progression comes increased danger and the need for better protection.
The Vaco12 system developed by Bavarian company Vacotechnology AG claims to offer just this type of superior protection. It uses a series of small polypropylene beads contained within pockets to transfer energy. According to the company, 12 is the magic number that represents the maximum number of contact points one of the beads has under maximum dilatancy. In plain English, that essentially means that when the balls are packed tightly together, each ball is touching 12 other balls.
When used in a three-dimensional array of beads, this concept means that each bead passes along energy via its 12 contact points. Then each bead that receives the energy passes a weakened form of that energy along to its 12 contact points. And so on. The energy is weakened at each stage.
In a helmet, the Vaco12 ball system means that when you hit the outside of your head onto a hard object, the energy from the impact is diluted by the series of balls and contact points. The energy is dispersed rather than absorbed directly and potentially passed through to your head. The company says that one ski helmet contains 40 million beads - a lot of energy transfer.
In comparison, Vaco's website explains that foam is able to absorb impact up to a certain level. Once this level is exceeded, the energy is transferred via a linear path to the substance below. In the case of the helmet, that's your head.
Vaco12 cushioning is used in place of more traditional foam cushions inside the helmet. Helmets that use Vaco12 technology still employ rigid exterior shells.
In addition to offering its purported protection advantages, Vaco12 beads also conform better to your head. Think about placing your hand in the sand - the granules of sand automatically shift and conform to your hand shape allowing you to leave a hand print. Vaco12 works in a similar fashion. When you put the helmet on, the beads rearrange around the shape of your head, better conforming to your individual contours. This provides a more natural fit without pressure points.
Currently, Vaco12 technology is used in ski helmets like the Amplid Plasma. The Plasma was nominated for an Austrian National Design Award in December. Vaco12 technology is also used in medical equipment and bedding, and Vacotechnology says that it envisions it in a variety of other sporting goods such as protective body armor, ski boots and bike saddles.