Ohio based startup company Hedgemon have been looking to hedgehogs for biomimetic solutions for the sports safety industry.
Their research has explored the impact absorbing properties of the humble hedgehog. Though we often think of hedgehogs as a fairly unadventurous, grounded species they actually spend a lot of their time climbing trees in search of food. Whilst high in the trees they can sometimes loose their grip and fall or actually jump to avoid predators. Their protection mechanism to avoid damage upon impact with the ground are the hundreds of small spines on its back. By curling up into a ball its vulnerable parts are protected and the spines absorb the impact.
Hedgemons aim is to use this natural technology to develop a new, better design for protective headgear. Currently most helmets in the sports industry consist of three layers, a soft inner cushioning, a hard outer shell and a shock absorbing middle layer. It’s this middle layer which they hope to improve using the research on hedgehogs spines.
At the moment the middle layer in helmets is only effective for head on impact and is not good at withstanding multiple hits. Concussion is often caused as a result of indirect hits with rotational force which does more damage to the brain.
The design of the hedgehogs spines is specifically adapted to absorb rotational impact and so is a perfect model to base a new type of helmet on. The individual spines crossover and spring back, each interacting with the other to create a domino effect as well as strength in numbers.
The middle layer which Hedgemon are developing is made out of a polymer material which mimics the structure of the hedgehogs keratin spines.
According to Hedgemon’s research paper ‘Dynamic impact testing of hedgehog spines using a dual-arm crash pendulum’ their new innovation could be particularly applicable to American Football which suffers huge numbers of concussions.
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