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Woolen hat that doubles as ski helmet
Friday April 1, 2016 - Email this article to a friend

A prototype bobble hat has been developed that could offer as much protection as a ski helmet. PlanetSKI has been given exclusive access to see and test the product.

The hat feels, looks and wears just like a normal hat.

But if the wearer suffers a fall or receives a sharp impact it goes rigid.

It has been tested with impact speeds of up to 45Kmph and its manufacturers believe it could represent an alternative to the ski helmet.

It has been developed by the Austro-Italian company, LlooRafpi (LR), that was involved in the development of back protectors for ski racers and later recreational skiers.

They too are soft to wear but stiffen on impact to offer protection.

"Not everyone likes to wear a helmet due to comfort issues and some argue it obstructs both vision and hearing so this could be the answer for many skiers and snowboarders," said the head of marketing and development at LR, Loa Pifrol.

The hat is expected to retail at around €40 and will be a fraction of the price of a good quality ski helmet.

The question is whether it will offer as much protection.

So, how does it work?

The task facing scientists was to create a liquid version of the plastic used in back-protectors that could then be treated on wool or other synthetic fabrics.

It needed to remain flexible before impact and then harden instantly.

On a recent visit to its factory in Berndorfer, near the Austrian and Italian border, PlanetSKI was given an exclusive tour of the production process.

There are two main (and secret) ingredients used in the chemical process.

FactoryPreparing for mass production
















They are blended in these large industrial vats at a ratio of 1 to 4.

FactoryState-of-the-art factory facilities
















The mixture itself is heated up to 140C before cooling over a 14-hour period.

FactoryThe secret substance
















As well as developing the product to remain flexible in normal use and then stiffen on impact the developers needed to find a system to offer shock absorbtion to protect the head in higher-speed collisions rather than just glancing blows.

Various honeycombed inner-liners were tested but it was realised a more robust system was called for.

"As the hat stiffens on impact the forces are transmitted across the hat to a counter absorbtion system that is attached to the back," said Professor Ralf Lopio, the lead scientist on the project.

"It is then linked to a device similar to a back protector that is worn under the ski jacket and the forces are transmitted to this in fractions of a second and the impact pressures are absorbed," added Professor Lopio.

Two prototypes are currenty being tested.

One has a single flexi-rigid absorbtion system that runs down the spine.

Prototype OnePrototype One

















Another spreads the forces across the body.

Prototype TwoPrototype Two

















After our recent tour of the factory in Berndorfer PlanetSKI was given exclusive access to the product and we are the first to test the new hat.

We began by giving it a sharp tap with a ski pole and this is what happened.

Before impactBefore impact
















After impactAfter impact
















"I first hit the woolen hat with a ski pole and it immediately stiffened and sprung upright. I then hit it harder with a hammer and the same thing happened," said the PlanetSKI content editor, James Cove.

"I then put the bobble hat on my head and hit myself repeatedly with a hammer for a full minute with the ferocity of the blows getting harder and harder. It really was quite extraordinary, one minute it was a soft warm bobble hat and then next it felt like a military helmet," added Cove.

The company is already looking at its military potential.

One downside is that the hat only remains flexible at temperatures down to -3c and once the mercury falls below that temperature it immediately stiffens.

When it does this the colour reverts to un-dyed colour of chalky-white.

The hat also looses all its warmth qualities too, so ceases to be much use as a hat offering protection from the cold. 

It has a metallic feel so actually makes the head feel colder.

It turns back to being flexible, and warm in its original colour, when the temperature rises above -3C.

"We are working on this as clearly it is not ideal for a hat to keep going soft and stiff at will, in addition to changing colour.  With windchill taken into account the most common temperature in the mountains for skiers is actually -3C so it would happen very often. I admit it would look very odd as the hats keep changing colour on people, but we are confident of ironing out this minor inconvenience," added  Professor Lopio to PlanetSKI.

Ski helmets actually offer less protection than some people think as we have reported in this earlier article on PlanetSKI.

The company also believes many skiers and snowboarders may wear them over a conventional ski helmet to offer extra protection.

Or even a thin beanie-style version underneath.

The product was found to work best with wool from the long-fleeced Tirolean sheep that graze on the south-east facing slopes of the lower alpine pastures in the Austrian Province.

A new fast-breeding programme has been initiated as huge demand for the new woolen hat is expected.

"They may be sheep but they are at it like rabbits and they need little encouragement. We can produce enough wool as long as LlooRafpi can make enough of its secret formula," said one of the farmers involved in the breeding plan, Wolfgang Legover.

Increasing productionIncreasing production


















Tests on the product have been conducted by EU safety officials and the manufacturer, LR, is confident a final Europe-wide safety certificate will be issued at mid-day today.

Here at PlanetSKI we will keep you posted on developments so do check back later.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

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