California brand launches 3D-printed bike helmet with crowdfunding campaign

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REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (BRAIN) — KAV Sports, which has been selling a custom 3D-printed hockey helmet since last fall, is launching a 3D-printed bike helmet with a crowdfunding campaign that began Tuesday.

The company said the helmet’s construction offers custom fit while minimizing bulk for improved aerodynamics and lightness. A British company, HEXR, launched a custom 3D-printed bike helmet several years ago, but it is not certified to U.S. standards so it isn’t available to customers here.

Interestingly, the HEXR and KAV both use additive technology to create a honeycomb of hex-shaped cells in the helmet liner. Specialized’s 3D-printed saddle, the S-Works Power with Mirror, uses a similar hex-shaped honeycomb. 

It’s not a coincidence, Whitman Kwok, the founder and CEO of KAV, explained to BRAIN. “Hexes are one of the most efficient structures when you analyze their energy absorption to weight ratio,” he said.

3D printing the liner allows KAV to create an energy management system that reduces rotational accelerations. The lining is also about 20% lighter than EPS; a complete helmet weighs less than 300 grams in almost all sizes while providing more head coverage than some. For comparison, some super light road helmets like the POC Ventral Light weigh less than 200 grams, but most mid-priced helmets are in the 300-400 gram range.

KAV customers are shipped a Fit Kit to measure their heads before ordering. The kit records circumference and about a half dozen other measurements. Kav feeds the figures into a machine-learning algorithm to generate a virtual rendering of the customer’s head, including specific roundness, forehead slope and other factors. Then 3D printers produce a unique shell and liner for each customer. The helmets are designed and built in the U.S.

In the hockey market, KAV works with the Sharks hockey shops to provide customer measurements, and Kwok said he’d love to work with select independent bike shops in a similar way.

“Our helmets do cost more to make in everything from the R&D to materials to labor here in the States. So our selectivity is partly about finding stores that we can certify but also to make sure we can drive enough volume to make it worth their while,” he said.

Because the helmet fits so well, the company can reduce the complexity of its fit system, further reducing weight. 

Kwok said the company has worked with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to certify the designs. While some helmet standards require testing of each size of a model; Kwok said KAV’s software ensures that each helmet has the same offsets so will pass the test regardless of the custom shaping. Kwok also does regular sample testing.

The helmet will be offered to Kickstarter supporters at $275, with a suggested retail of $375. In its first hours Tuesday the Kickstarter campaign had already exceeded its $10,000 goal, with over $15,000 pledged from 37 backers and 35 days to go in the campaign. 

Kav plans to begin shipping helmets to supporters in November.

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