Title:
Natural Fiber Impact Attenuation System
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A natural fiber impact attenuation system capable of protecting a user engaged in a professional, recreational, or competitive activity is disclosed. The system may be constructed partly or entirely of biodegradable natural fiber materials such as cork in an agglomerated or non-agglomerated form. Impact attenuation pads may be installed within the shell of a helmet so that a user's head decelerates during an impact event by causing natural fiber impact attenuation pads to deform into void spaces or empty areas. The natural fiber impact attenuation system may be secured to a helmet by adhesives or other fastening methods.



Inventors:
Coyle, Daniel (Corvallis, OR, US)
Application Number:
13/527028
Publication Date:
12/27/2012
Filing Date:
06/19/2012
Assignee:
COYLE DANIEL
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A42B3/12
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Foreign References:
WO1999049745A1
Primary Examiner:
MORAN, KATHERINE M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Stewart Myers (430 Peckerwood Lane Grants Pass OR 97527)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An apparatus comprising: natural fiber impact attenuation material; the natural fiber impact attenuation material being configured and arranged within a helmet; and the natural fiber impact attenuation material being configured to provide a plurality of void spaces.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation material consists of cork in an agglomerated or non-agglomerated form.

3. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation material is a plurality of natural fiber impact attenuation pads.

4. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein one or more layers of impact attenuation material is configured and arranged within the helmet.

5. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the void spaces are empty spaces that allow for deformation of the natural fiber impact attenuation material.

6. The apparatus of claim 3, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation pads are roughly circular or semi-circular in shape.

7. The apparatus of claim 3, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation pads are perforated to create some or all of the void spaces.

8. A method for protecting a user comprising: providing a natural fiber impact attenuation system and configuring and arranging the natural fiber impact attenuation system within a helmet.

9. The method of claim 8, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation system consists of cork in an agglomerated or non-agglomerated form.

10. The method of claim 8, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation system comprises one or more layers of natural fiber impact attenuation material.

11. The method of claim 10, wherein void spaces exist within the natural fiber impact attenuation material.

12. The method of claim 10, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation material comprises a plurality of natural fiber impact attenuation pads.

13. The method of claim 12, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation pads are roughly circular or semi-circular in shape.

14. The method of claim 12, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation pads are perforated to create some or all of the void spaces.

15. A natural fiber impact attenuation system comprising: natural fiber impact attenuation material that deforms to protect a user's head during an impact event, and the natural fiber impact attenuation material being configured and arranged within a helmet.

16. The system of claim 15, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation material consists of cork in an agglomerated or non-agglomerated form.

17. The system of claim 15, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation material is a plurality of natural fiber impact attenuation pads.

18. The system of claim 15, wherein one or more layers of the natural fiber impact attenuation material is configured and arranged within a helmet.

19. The system of claim 17, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation pads are roughly circular or semi-circular in shape.

20. The system of claim 17, wherein the natural fiber impact attenuation pads are perforated to create some or all of the void spaces.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCES TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 61/498,598 filed on Jun. 19th, 2011, entitled “Protective Natural Fiber Helmet”, the disclosure of which is hereby incorporated by reference.

STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT

Not Applicable

THE NAMES OF THE PARTIES TO A JOINT RESEARCH AGREEMENT

Not Applicable

INCORPORATION-BY-REFERENCE OF MATERIAL SUBMITTED ON A COMPACT DISC

Not Applicable

SEQUENCE LISTING

Not Applicable

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to protective helmets and more particularly to an impact attenuation system for use in a helmet that is constructed partially or entirely out of a natural fiber material.

2. Description of the Related Art

It is well known that the survivability of accidents, particularly without serious injury, depends strongly on whether the victim is wearing proper head protection. By way of example, a person with no head protection may well sustain fatal injuries in an accident while a person simply wearing a helmet would not. Head injury is a significant cause of accidental death and disability among children and adults in the United States and other countries, frequently resulting from activities such as bicycling, snow sports, motorcycles and ATVs, watersports including whitewater sports, skateboarding, equestrian activities, climbing sports, baseball, roller-skating, kick scooters, and in-line skating.

In general, head injuries fall into two main categories: focal and diffuse. Focal injuries are limited to the area of impact. They include contusions, hematomas, lacerations and fractures. Diffuse brain injuries involve trauma to the neural and vascular elements of the brain at the microscopic level. The effect of such diffuse damage may vary from a completely reversible injury, such as a mild concussion, to prolonged coma or death. Helmets may easily prevent both types of injury.

Numerous studies have shown the dramatic benefits of wearing a helmet. In 2008 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that of the 714 people killed in bicycle accidents, 86% were not wearing helmets. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission indicates that bicycle helmets reduce the risk of brain injury by as much as 88%.

There are three general categories of protective helmets used by sporting participants found in the prior art.

1. Hard shell helmets having a hard outer shell, typically made of a thermoplastic material such as polycarbonate or ABS, an inner shell or energy-absorbing liner made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) or expanded polypropylene (EPP), and optionally a comfort liner or comfort pads of flexible foam inside the EPS liner. Hard shell helmets may also include composite materials such as Kevlar, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and alloy metals. These helmets are tested in laboratories at a one-meter drop, rather than the standard two-meter drop test performed on expanded polystyrene helmets. This means the hard shell helmets are not designed to withstand forces from higher energy impacts due to higher speeds or falls.

2. Foam helmets made of a thick layer of EPS or EPP with no outer shell and optionally a comfort liner or comfort pads inside.

3. Microshell helmets having a thin outer microshell (0.2-0.5 mm thick) made of a thermoplastic vacuum-shaped material such as polyethylene over a relatively thicker inner shell or liner of EPS or EPP and an optional comfort liner or comfort pads.

EPS consists of plastic cells that have been bonded together in the shape of a helmet during the molding process. When subjected to an impact, the cells of an EPS helmet will “crush”, or permanently deform, thereby protecting the wearer by attenuating the energy of the impact. However, the EPS helmet liners are rigid, inelastic, with very little flexibility. Because of this, they are “single impact” helmets, and have serious deficiencies in their energy attenuation characteristics. Some designer materials such as Zorbium® do have the characteristics of being malleable and can be used in multiple impacts, but are costly to not only the consumer, but the environment as well. These materials also absorb moisture, be it from perspiration or environment, and tend to retain a higher amount of heat than similar EPS counterparts.

The present invention addresses this problem by replacing the single impact EPS internal structure of the helmet with an environmentally friendly natural fiber material, such as cork pads. Cork has been proven to be malleable, and does not permanently deform in the event of an impact, thus potentially extending the service life of the helmet far beyond the typical parameters of a molded EPS helmet. An added benefit of cork is its naturally occurring hydrophobic properties. The pads will not retain moisture, reducing degradation and further extending service life. Cork is also not vulnerable to ultra-violet (UV) radiation to the degree as documented for EPS.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The natural fiber impact attenuation system described in this brief summary is not limited to the construction or features set forth herein. The teachings of this brief summary are not intended to limit the invention to the mentioned embodiments, but are merely set forth to illustrate how the natural fiber impact attenuation system may be used in various settings. It is understood that those skilled in the art may use or construct the natural fiber impact attenuation system other than how it is mentioned in this section.

It is an object of the present invention to provide a natural fiber impact attenuation system for protecting the head of a user engaged in a professional, recreational, or competitive activity.

It is another object of the present invention to provide a natural fiber impact attenuation system for protecting users of multiple ages and both sexes.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a natural fiber impact attenuation system that may be constructed partially or entirely out of a natural fiber material.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a natural fiber impact attenuation system that is biodegradable.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a natural fiber impact attenuation system that may retain some or all visual characteristics of the natural fiber from which it was constructed.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a natural fiber impact attenuation system that may use cork as the natural fiber.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a natural fiber impact attenuation system that deforms upon impact event in order to protect a user's head.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a natural fiber impact attenuation system that may be reusable and regains its original shape after an impact event.

In accordance with the objects of the invention described above, one exemplary embodiment of the present invention provides a natural fiber impact attenuation system that may use natural cork bark in an agglomerated or non-agglomerated form. In certain embodiments, the natural fiber material may or may not be composed partly of synthetic materials. By way of example, agglomerated cork products may or may not use urethane to bind the cork. The use of synthetic materials in the manner set forth in this description does not deviate from the scope of the present invention. The cork may be shaped into circular pads or patterned, inserted sheets with or without holes cut into the pads to allow for additional deformation of the pads upon impact. A helmet using this embodiment of the natural fiber impact attenuation system may use a single layer of the cork pads, or may use multiple layers depending on the type of helmet. The cork pads may be glued or otherwise attached to a helmet to form the natural fiber impact attenuation system.

In the above-mentioned exemplary embodiment of the present invention, the natural fiber impact attenuation system may be inserted into the outer shell of a helmet. The system may use multiple layers of cork pads with holes cut in the pads to allow for the cork pads to deform adequately during an impact event. In an accident, a user's head deforms the cork pads as his or her head decelerates. Slower deceleration aids in preventing the user from being as injured, or as seriously injured, had the user's head impacted directly with a helmet's hard outer shell.

A further understanding of the present invention can be obtained by reference to a preferred embodiment set forth in the illustrations of the accompanying drawings. Although the illustrated embodiments are merely exemplary of methods for carrying out the present invention, both the organization and method of operation of the invention, in general, together with further objectives and advantages thereof, may be more easily understood by reference to the drawings and the following description. The drawings are not intended to limit the scope of this invention, which is set forth with particularity in the claims as appended or as subsequently amended, but merely to clarify and exemplify the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWING(S)

FIG. 1 is an image of an exemplary natural fiber impact attenuation system showing the system installed inside of a helmet as according to one embodiment of the present invention; and

FIG. 2 is an image of an exemplary natural fiber impact attenuation system showing the system installed inside of a helmet with perforations cut out of some of the impact attenuation pads to allow for additional deformation as according to one embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

In the following detailed description, reference is made to the accompanying drawings that show, by way of illustration, specific embodiments in which the invention may be practiced. These embodiments are described in sufficient detail to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention. It is to be understood that the various embodiments of the invention, although different, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Furthermore, a particular feature, structure, or characteristic described herein in connection with one embodiment may be implemented within other embodiments without departing from the scope of the invention. In addition, it is to be understood that the location or arrangement of individual elements within each disclosed embodiment may be modified without departing from the scope of the invention. The following detailed description is, therefore, not to be taken in a limiting sense, and the scope of the present invention is defined only by the appended claims, appropriately interpreted, along with the full range of equivalents to which the claims are entitled. In the drawings, like numerals refer to the same or similar functionality throughout the several views.

The word “exemplary” is used herein to mean “serving as an example, instance, or illustration.” Any embodiment described herein as “exemplary” is not necessarily to be construed as preferred or advantageous over other embodiments. Likewise, the terms “embodiment(s) of the invention”, “alternative embodiment(s)”, and “exemplary embodiment(s)” do not require that all embodiments of the method, system, and apparatus include the discussed feature, advantage or mode of operation. The following descriptions of the preferred embodiments are merely exemplary in nature and is in no way intended to limit the invention, its application, or use.

The terms “natural fiber impact attenuation system”, “impact attenuation system”, “system”, “invention” and all other like terms may be used interchangeably herein to refer to the present invention. Similarly, the terms “natural fiber impact attenuation pad”, “natural fiber pad”, “impact attenuation pad”, “attenuation pad” and “pad” and all other like terms may be used interchangeably herein to refer to the natural fiber elements of the impact attenuation system that attach to a helmet's shell and provide protection for a user during an impact event. Although the following description and claims may refer to components of the invention in the singular, it is understood that the references may also include components of the system in the multiple.

Several preferred embodiments of the natural fiber impact attenuation system are discussed in this section. However, the invention is not limited to these embodiments. A natural fiber impact attenuation system is any combination of natural fiber materials that provide a natural fiber impact attenuation system for use in a helmet. The natural fiber impact attenuation system is not limited in method of operation, dimensions, attachment means for connecting the natural fiber impact attenuation system to a helmet, or in any other feature appropriate for inclusion as part of a natural fiber impact attenuation system.

As set forth in this description and the attached images, an improved natural fiber impact attenuation system has been developed that improves upon conventional impact attenuation systems. The various embodiments of the improved natural fiber impact attenuation system described herein can be used in a wide variety of applications. For example, certain embodiments are particularly well-adapted for use with a mountain bike helmet. Other embodiments are particularly well-adapted for use with kayaking helmets. Still other embodiments are particularly well adapted for use with road cycling helmets. Even other embodiments are particularly well adapted for use with skating helmets.

A natural fiber impact attenuation system installed within the outer shell of a helmet (100) is illustrated in FIG. 1. The natural fiber impact attenuation system may include natural fiber impact attenuation pads (101) that have been sized and shaped to form a protective layer within the helmet's outer shell (100). Although only a single layer is illustrated in this FIG. 1, other preferred embodiments of the present invention may employ multiple layers of natural fiber impact attenuation pads (101), (102) to protect a user. The natural fiber impact attenuation pads (101), (102) used in the impact attenuation system may vary greatly in size and shape. The exact dimensions of each natural fiber impact attenuation pad (101), (102) are dependent upon the helmet shell (100) into which the natural fiber impact attenuation system is installed. Furthermore, there may not be a set or pre-determined configuration for the pads (101), (102) used in the natural fiber impact attenuation system. Instead, each natural fiber impact attenuation system may be custom-fitted to the particular helmet shell (100) into which it is installed. The impact attenuation pads (101), (102) may be circular or roughly circular in shape so that there may be spaces between the pads into which they may deform during an impact event. FIG. 1 further illustrates how some of the natural fiber impact attenuation pads (102) may be cut to contour to the edge of the helmet shell (100). Cutting some of the pads (102) allows the impact attenuation system to fit the helmet shell (100) and for continued operation of some helmet features such as air vents (103).

FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplary natural fiber impact attenuation system installed inside of a helmet shell (100) with deformation perforations (105) cut out of some of the impact attenuation pads (101), (102) to allow for additional deformation as according to one embodiment of the present invention. The deformation perforations (105) may allow the natural fiber impact attenuation pads (101), (102) to deform to a greater extent than would otherwise be possible without the deformation perforations (105). The deformation perforations (105) may provide additional void or empty space areas into which the natural fiber impact attenuation pads (101), (102) can extend during an impact event. By extending into the additional void or empty space areas, the natural fiber impact attenuation pads (101), (102) may allow a user's head to decelerate over a greater distance during an accident, thereby lessening the probability or severity of head-related trauma. FIG. 2. Further illustrates how a natural fiber impact attenuation system may be shaped to fit around other helmet features such as a helmet strap system (106).

A natural fiber impact attenuation system may consist of natural fiber materials such as cork, which is derived from the bark of the Oak Cork Tree, in an agglomerated or non-agglomerated form. In certain embodiments, the natural fiber materials used in the impact attenuation system may or may not be composed partly of synthetic materials. By way of example, agglomerated cork products may or may not use urethane to bind the cork. By way of a further example, synthetic adhesives may be used to attach the impact retention system to a helmet's outer shell. It should be noted that the use of synthetic materials such as binders, adhesives, sealants, protectants, or other additives do not deviate from the scope of the present invention. Instead, the use of synthetic materials in combination with natural fiber materials is consistent with embodiments of the present invention. Cork cells have a unique 14 sided polyhedron structure that can be compressed to 15% of their normal volume and then regain most or all of its size and shape slowly. This compression and very slow rebound allows cork to act as a very effective energy dampener. Low density cork was shown by GRANTA DESIGN to perform competitively with high density expanded polystyrene (EPS) as a material well suited to absorb the type of impacts targeted in helmet testing. Cork is biodegradable and can easily be recycled for various applications.

Cork is amenable to various manipulations that can alter its density and the size of the granules that compose agglomerated products. These two variables make it possible to optimize cork agglomerates for best performance in a variety of applications. For use in helmets, a low density, low granule size cork is preferred which has been shown through testing to effectively dampen the energy that is transferred to a human head during a typical head impact event.

Perforations and layers of natural fiber impact attenuation pads (101), (102) enhances the energy absorbing properties inherent in the natural fiber impact attenuation system while at the same time significantly reducing the weight of a helmet into which the impact attenuation system is installed. When using cork, perforating and layering the impact attenuation pads gives resilient cork cells more room to move to during an impact event. Unlike EPS, cork does not typically crush and is not destroyed by moderate impact. Cork rebounds to its full, or near its full, original dimensions over 24 hours post-impact. Because of this, cork benefits from having voids which it can fill during an impact event.

The natural fiber impact attenuation system (100) may be used in, but is not limited to use in the following applications: bicycling, snow sports, motorcycles and ATVs, watersports including whitewater sports, skateboarding, equestrian activities, climbing sports, baseball, roller-skating, kick scooters, bungee jumping, skydiving, hang-gliding, parasailing, team sports, in-line skating, and professional applications such as tree trimming, construction, factory work and rescue work.

The natural fiber impact attenuation system may be constructed from the following, non-limiting, methods or processes of manufacture: the use of molding, stamping; CNC machines including CNC software; the use of chainsaws, grinders, and sanders; and the use of adhesives to attach the natural fiber impact attenuation system to a helmet's outer shell. Inserts may be assembled from agglomerated sheets or blocks of cork. Specialized woodworking equipment may include, but is not limited to, custom or specially designed hand tools, machines, machine tools, CNC devices or attachment, CNC software, routers, millers, bits, or any other piece of equipment intended for use in manufacturing a natural fiber impact attenuation system.

The natural fiber impact attenuation system may be constructed entirely or partly from materials that are considered biodegradable.

A suspension system uniquely adapted for use in a natural fiber impact attenuation system may be added to provide helmet/cranium separation. The suspension system may suspend a helmet shell (100) above and away from a user's skull to provide for the spreading of impact forces across a wider area.

Although certain example methods, apparatus and articles of manufacture have been described herein, the scope of coverage of this patent is not limited thereto. On the contrary, this patent covers all methods, apparatus and articles of manufacture fairly falling within the scope of the appended claims either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents.

With respect to the above description then, it is to be realized that the optimum dimensional relationships for the parts of the natural fiber impact attenuation system, to include variations in size, materials, shape, form, function and the manner of operation, assembly and use, are deemed readily apparent and obvious to one skilled in the art, and all equivalent relationships to those illustrated in the drawings and described in the specification are intended to be encompassed by the natural fiber impact attenuation system.

Directional terms such as “front”, “back”, “in”, “out”, “downward”, “upper”, “lower”, “top”, “bottom”, and the like may have been used in the description. These terms are applicable to the embodiments shown and described in conjunction with the drawings. These terms are merely used for the purpose of description in connection with the drawings and do not necessarily apply to the position in which the natural fiber impact attenuation system may be used.

Therefore, the foregoing is considered as illustrative only of the principles of the natural fiber impact attenuation system. Further, since numerous modifications and changes will readily occur to those skilled in the art, it is not desired to limit the natural fiber impact attenuation system to the exact construction and operation shown and described, and accordingly, all suitable modifications and equivalents may be resorted to, falling within the scope of the natural fiber impact attenuation system. While the above description describes various embodiments of the present invention, it will be clear that the present invention may be otherwise easily adapted to fit any configuration where a natural fiber impact attenuation system is desired or required.

As various changes could be made in the above constructions without departing from the scope of the invention, it is intended that all matter contained in the above description or shown in the accompanying drawings shall be interpreted as illustrative and not in a limiting sense.

As such, those skilled in the art will appreciate that the conception, upon which disclosure is based, may readily be utilized as a basis for designing other structures, methods, and systems for carrying out the present invention. It is important, therefore, that this description be regarded as including such equivalent constructions insofar as they do not depart from the spirit and scope of the present invention.