Helite has years of experience developing specialized wearable airbag systems for various activities, everything from horse riding to skiing. Now the French company has an airbag for a new demographic: senior citizens. The Hip'Air belt it's presenting at CES 2018 can sense a sudden fall and automatically inflate protective airbags in less than a third of a second, protecting the wearer's hips from fracture.
Like other wearable airbag systems, the Hip'Air relies on electronic hardware, including gyroscopes and accelerometers, to identify falls based upon a carefully developed algorithm. The system analyzes movements up to 1,000 times per second, detecting a fall within 200 milliseconds and fully inflating the airbags 80 milliseconds thereafter. A replaceable CO2 canister serves as the inflation mechanism.
Both the left and right airbags inflate to cover the sides from the upper hip to mid-thigh area ahead of ground impact. Helite says the tough nylon airbag skins hold up to the forces of impact. They remain inflated for a few seconds after contact before deflating automatically. To reuse, the owner simply needs to put the airbags back in their respective pouches and load a fresh gas canister.
Of course, an accessory like the Hip'Air is only so good as the owner's willingness to wear it. Helite keeps it as streamlined and simple as possible, integrating the electronics and gas canister into the front center. It says the belt fits comfortably above the hips and allows for freedom of motion. A washable cover sits over top the non-washable hardware belt to ensure a clean, presentable look.
The simple snap buckle doubles as the power switch so that once the Hip'Air is secured on the waist it's also activated and ready for duty. A green light serves as an indicator that it's ready to go. When the belt is removed, or when no motion is detected, it goes into sleep mode to conserve battery life. The rechargeable battery lasts up to 15 days, and a red light and audible alert let the owner know when it's time to recharge.
The Hip'Air isn't the only system of its kind, as other wearable airbag-based hip protectors are also in development, including one from startup ActiveProtective. Helite does bring a wealth of wearable airbag experience to the space, however. It plans to get the Hip'Air to market in four adjustable sizes this March for a price of €600 (approx. US$720).
One day, perhaps we'll all protect ourselves with affordable, low-profile full-body airbag cocoons, but until then, we suspect we'll continue to see development and evolution in the single-purpose wearable airbag space.
Helite's video clip below provides a closer look at the features and operation of the Hip'Air.
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