Just when you thought–as you were undoubtedly thinking–that ski helmet design could not be improved upon any further, someone has to go and stick a solar panel on the thing. Please revise your mental representation of the world accordingly.
Fraunhofer IZM in Berlin is responsible for this particular disruption. (It teamed up with TEXSYS and the Technische Universität Berlin.) Having a solar panel atop your ski helmet doesn’t mean you can harness the sun’s energy to do your skiing for you–you’ll still have to exert old-fashioned muscular effort to navigate those moguls. But the modern, tech-savvy skier apparently has electrical needs nonetheless. Explains Fraunhofer IZM: “Mobile devices like smart phones and MP3 players can then be connected wirelessly via Bluetooth. Incoming calls can be received without breaking glide using the accompanying Bluetooth-enabled glove. The user can even operate an MP3 player remotely from the glove, ensuring that cumbersome removal of gloves in sub-zero temperatures is finally a thing of the past.”
The main innovation here, points out Treehugger–and it’s a significant one–is in the flexibility of the solar panels. Researchers have made flexible solar panels before, but typically only ones that could bend in a single direction. Fraunhofer engineered a new solar cell structure solution that enables a solar panel to conform to the spherical curve atop a helmet. They explain that their new packaging tech features “extremely high quality, monocrystalline silicon solar cellars [that] can be divided into tiny individual chips and adapted to a three-dimensional, curved shape.”
Although Fraunhofer appears focused on the iPhone set, the idea can have many, even life-saving applications. Treehugger imagines integrating communications headsets into the hard hats of rescue workers, or fans into those worn by construction workers (though I have a hard time seeing construction companies eagerly shelling out for that luxury anytime soon). Treehugger’s vision of bike helmets with integrated lights is fantastic, though.
I, who personally thought that headwear-with-technology had reached its apogee with the beer hat, stand humbled by Fraunhofer’s innovation. It hopes to bring the product to market for around 300 Euros (about $390), by year’s end. If you can’t wait till then, book a ticket to the Energy Harvesting & Storage expo held in Berlin on the ides of May, and make your way to the Fraunhofer booth, where they’ll be touting an iteration of the helmet prototype.