Way back in 1996, Swedish neurosurgeon Hans von Holst collaborated with researcher Peter Halldin to explore ideas on how to improve the protection of the human head, neck, and spine. The Swedes talked about how, during an impact, the brain can slide in the cerebrospinal fluid within the skull. Knowing about the brain’s own in-built reaction to impact, Peter simply asked Hans, “What if we could use that in a helmet?”
In 1998 they got funding to see if this idea could be made into a reality. They began by experimenting with bike helmets.
“We understood that you don’t often fall straight down, you usually fall at an angle,” says Halldin. “We also saw from the literature of experiments—that were performed in the 1970s on monkeys in the USA—that adding the rotation to the head of the monkey, resulted in more severe brain injuries than without it.”
“The brain is much more sensitive to rotation than linear motion,” he continues. “The main reason for that is that the brain is very similar to water when it comes to its sheer properties. It’s incompressible, so you cannot compress the brain. Everything pointed towards MIPS being a good idea.”
MIPS, which is an acronym that stands for “Multidirectional Impact Protection System,” mimics the brain, skull, and cerebrospinal fluid. Every helmet built with MIPS has a “low friction layer” built into it which allows the helmet to rotate 10-15mm relative to the head. At any type of impact direction, the low friction layer will reduce force to the head and neck at both high and low speeds. Additionally, MIPS covers the complete surface between the helmet and the head with no weak spots.
“Some of the competitive technologies that are on the market have only patches, but it’s not usually a complete circle around the head,” says Halldin, “There are weak spots in such implementations. During the impact—which is very short, 5-10 milliseconds—the acceleration is very high and the force between the helmet and head is like having more than ten people standing on your helmet, so it’s not that easy to move the helmet. That’s why you need this low coefficient of friction layer.”
Like Intel for computers or Gore-Tex for outerwear, MIPS is an “ingredient brand” in that they don’t make helmets, but their product goes inside helmets created by other brands.
“Every helmet model with the MIPS low friction layer—in every size—has been tested in Sweden,” says Halldin. “We develop and design the product in Sweden and then we send the CAD file to China to produce the low friction layer. They install it in China and send it back to Sweden for us to test it in our test laboratory, to approve the concept in each helmet model. The technology and concept have not only been tested here at MIPS in Sweden, but it’s also been tested in external laboratories in the USA, Canada, and Europe.”
Peter is also very clear, and understandably so, that the most important thing to protect your head is that you actually use a helmet, with or without MIPS.