Outdoors

Wearable airbags for ski racing move toward the start gate

Wearable airbags for ski racin...
Dainese's D-air Ski garment relies on micro-filaments to help it expand during deployment
Dainese's D-air Ski garment relies on micro-filaments to help it expand during deployment
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POC worked with In&Motion to develop its design
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POC worked with In&Motion to develop its design
The Spine VPD 2.0 Airbag Vest relies on integrated sensors in identifying crashes and activating its airbag
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The Spine VPD 2.0 Airbag Vest relies on integrated sensors in identifying crashes and activating its airbag
POC Spine VPD 2.0 Airbag Vest
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POC Spine VPD 2.0 Airbag Vest
Dainese D-air Ski
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Dainese D-air Ski
Dainese D-air Ski
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Dainese D-air Ski
Dainese's D-air Ski garment relies on micro-filaments to help it expand during deployment
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Dainese's D-air Ski garment relies on micro-filaments to help it expand during deployment

We've been watching the wearable ski-racing airbag develop over the past several years, and while the technology has come to fruition, it has yet to really catch on in the sport it was designed for. If the key is to offer more options, we take another step forward with the all-new Spine VPD 2.0 Airbag Vest from Swedish safety accessories manufacturer POC and French startup In&Motion. For its part, Dainese, designer of the first wearable airbag, will get its tech on the back of World Cup racers this season.

Different from the avalanche airbag, a device meant to keep an avalanche victim on top of the snow, the ski-racing airbag's job is to provide impact protection during high-speed crashes. With the blessing of the International Ski Federation (FIS), Dainese developed the first such airbag and showed it in 2014.

High-level athletes are particular creatures, though. While an auto-inflate airbag has the potential to ward off devastating injuries, ski racers have been loath to wear them. According to a New York Times article this past February, racers were concerned with the detrimental effects that wearing the airbag might have on their on-snow performances.

An FIS mandate requiring airbags could alleviate racers' concerns by keeping the playing field level – if everyone wears one, then everyone experiences the same effects, positive and negative. But, according to that same Times article, the FIS was interested in having more than a single wearable airbag option available to racers before considering such a mandate.

POC Spine VPD 2.0 Airbag Vest
POC Spine VPD 2.0 Airbag Vest

It might not be the tipping point to a mandate, but there will be at least one additional airbag option in Winter 2015/16. The new Spine VPD 2.0 Airbag Vest has been approved by the FIS for use in both alpine and ski cross. Like Dianese's D-air Ski, the Spine uses a series of integrated sensors to detect crash-level falls, relying on an algorithm to distinguish those falls from normal racing forces. It performs 1,000 analyses per second and inflates the airbag within 100 milliseconds should it detect a crash.Once inflated, POC/In&Motion's airbag cushions the neck, chest, spine, abdomen and hips. The airbag design is a bit different from Dianese's – most notably in extending protection down to the hips with those tentacle-like side tubes – but the goal is the same: put some cushion between the tumbling skier and the hard ground he or she is speeding over. POC says that the airbag offers four times better absorption capacity than standard back protectors.

POC has integrated In&Motion's system into a lightweight vest designed to be worn under the skier's race suit. Like Dianese, it points to wind tunnel testing in concluding that the vest has no aerodynamic impact on the skier.

Interesting side note – while Italy's Dianese relied on Ferrari's wind tunnel for testing, Sweden's POC has a working partnership with Volvo, which includes access to its wind tunnel.

POC says that several alpine and ski cross racers will wear its vest this season, including Canadian ski cross racer and POC team member Dave Duncan. Interestingly, the company plans to sell a consumer version through select retailers beginning in Northern Hemisphere Fall 2016. While the technology certainly seems beneficial to racer safety, its usefulness for regular skiers, who may fall many times at lower, non-threatening speeds, is more dubious.

Dainese D-air Ski
Dainese D-air Ski

Perhaps a reaction to POC's announcement last week, Dainese sent out its own press release this week announcing that its D-air Ski airbag will be used in World Cup racing by Austrian, Italian, Canadian and American team members. It is now quoting an airbag deployment time of 25 milliseconds, quicker than the 100 milliseconds it gave at launch time last year. It should prove a very interesting winter for ski racing airbag technology, and we look forward to seeing which athletes use the airbags, how they place and if the technology comes into play on the snow.

Sources: POC, NY Times

3 comments
MD
I am quite sure that these manufacturers are well aware of the idea of Sponsorship, and product endorsement, it seems they are wanting to get a free ride by having their accessories (which would prevent far more injuries etc for recreational skiers than professionals) mandated by the federation. I'm sure Dainese got their product on the backs of the teams they have "on-board" through "a price they couldn't refuse" (and a contract to match).
vblancer
No doubt. Expense for recreational skiers will likely be prohibitive as they may fall several times a trip at much lower speeds and these are likely "one use" as in car airbags. Remember when speed is doubled force generated is squared. A down hill racer going 80 mph is going to be exposed to 4 times the violence a recreational skier going 40 mph. Much as we have simpler seat belts, no fire suit and no helmet compared to car racers when we drive our cars. Yes we would be safer with helmets as something like 80% of auto fatalities are head injuries but it would be very hard to get normal driver to wear helmets. Just the same I would like to see these suits made mandatory if they are proven for at least Downhill and G.S. racers where speeds are so high and crashes so violent. Heck I remember how even car racers fought safety stuff for years. Seat belts had to be mandated in Formula One as the drivers back then were so afraid of fire they would prefer being thrown from car. Only something like 15 years ago most drivers did not want HANS device head and neck restraints. Now the very same drivers would not race without them if they could. When I raced I tried to use all safety stuff I could and still got hurt. Riding street bikes without helmet, boots, decent jacket and gloves I would feel naked. Some racers need to be forced to take care of themselves and downhill is a very dangerous sport and G.S. is close behind. I say go for it!!
Vlady Feldman
here is a simple solution: http://shokkstop.com/