What Is MIPS Technology?

The short answer is that MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System.

MIPS is a new technology that protects your brain from the impact of a collision when wearing a safety helmet, even better than the current helmet Safety Standards. A safety helmet being a bicycle helmet, motorcycle helmet, ski helmet, snowboarding helmet, equestrian helmet and just about any other type of helmet that you can think of. And, when we say ‘new technology’, the concept was born in the mid-nineties, came onto the market in 2007, and finally gained wide-spread acceptance in 2014. So, it’s not totally new.

MIPS Strain Level on Brain
Courtesy MIPS AB

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Now you’re wondering what exactly does it do to make a safety helmet even better?

MIPS is a technology that mimics the brain’s own protective structure.

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In what way does/can it do that?

The human brain doesn’t just sit inside your skull. It’s floating in what is called Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This fluid acts, partly, as a protection for your brain. Wikipedia says “CSF protects the brain tissue from injury when jolted or hit, by providing a fluid buffer that acts as a shock absorber from some forms of mechanical injury.”

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That’s interesting. So, how does MIPS mimic this CSF?

Try this, it might help you to understand. Make a fist with your left hand. Now cover your fist with your right hand tightly. Your left fist is your head, and your right hand is your helmet. Now, with both your hands working together, push your hands out and onto your desk as if they were a head and helmet hitting a road in a sliding motion (as they most likely would). Your right hand (helmet) hits the ground and by the forces of momentum starts to roll, all the while holding your head firmly in place. As a result your head starts to roll causing your brain to suddenly jar and potentially causing some injury to the brain.

So, now let’s add MIPS technology to the helmet. It’s almost like a helmet inside a helmet. For the sake of demonstration, let’s call the internal helmet ‘the inner layer’. So, repeating the above exercise with your fist and hand, you’ll need one more hand. Your right hand will be the inner layer which will be holding your head (your left hand) firmly. Your third hand will cover your right hand loosely.

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Why loosely?

Because the outer shell of the helmet can move 10 -15 mm in all directions, front to back, left to right, etc., relative to the inner layer, to give the required rotation for the so-called “slip-plane” technology that a MIPS helmet utilizes.

So, now you can do the crash simulation on your desk using three hands. Your inner layer hand (right hand) firmly cradling the head, while the third hand loosely covers the inner layer. Upon impact, your third hand begins to roll taking the brunt of the force and reducing the force on the inner layer/head and the brain inside.

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So, what was it that happened in the mid-nineties to start this?

It all started when a Swedish neurosurgeon called Hans von Holst realized that far too many people having accidents while wearing a helmet were still suffering from brain trauma. So, he decided to research ways in which to make helmets safer.

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In 1995, von Holst was joined by biomechanic, Peter Halldin Ph.D. from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. Together they spent the next several years researching, testing, fundraising, more researching, more testing, working on their ‘proof of concept’. In 2001, MIPS AB, the company, was formed with five neuroscience experts. This is when things really got started – more testing, in fact, thousands of tests, research, development, business planning until finally a marketable product was released in the form of an equestrian helmet in 2007.

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Wow. So from an idea to a saleable product took 12 years. It must have been pretty much perfected by then.

Well, yes, it was good enough to introduce to the market, but Research, Development and Testing continued in order to make a good product better as well as to develop the current equestrian MIPS helmet to be suitable for other activities.

How so?

The original equestrian helmet of 2007 was produced in-house and was referred to as MIPS BPS 1.0 (BPS meaning Brain Protection System). At that time, their business model was to produce their own helmet brand with diverse offerings of all types of helmets.

Fortunately, good business sense told them that rather than trying to corner the market with their own MIPS brand, it would make more sense to partner with existing helmet makers and create a MIPS BPS framework layer which could be installed into the production chain of their helmet making partners. Thus MIPS BPS 2.0 was released targeting the bike and snow helmet markets in 2010.

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With the widespread exposure gained by MIPS in the bike and snow helmet markets, MIPS was quickly accepted into the mountain bike, motocross, and snowboarding helmet markets. MIPS was here to stay and was getting positive coverage in the media. By the end of 2013, MIPS had partnered with 8 different helmet brands with their layer framework installed in 30 models of helmet. In early 2014, MIPS partnered with one of the worlds largest helmet manufacturers, BRG Sports, makers of Bell and Gyro helmets, doubling the number of helmet brands and models that were installing MIPS BPS.

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Over the next few years, MIPS AB continued to grow and attract more partners. Two particularly notable events being: the acceptance of MIPS into the huge motorcycle helmet industry in 2016, and secondly, MIPS being listed on the Nasdaq Stockholm in 2017. The figures for the end of 2017 were particularly encouraging, showing MIPS partnered with 60 helmet brands, the MIPS layer installed into 302 models of helmet, and 5,400,000 MIPS PBS units sold.

In 2018, Rock climbing helmets were added to the list of MIPS enabled helmets, and by the end of 2018, there had been 9,200,000 MIPS PBS units sold.

We should have bought some shares back in 2017!

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Do MIPS helmets undergo any special testing?

Regular helmet testing following the various Safety Standards for helmets involves dropping a helmet from a height straight down onto a flat surface. However, the reality of falling from a horse, a snowboard or motorbike is not usually a vertical fall straight down, but more likely a fall that is moving and collides on an angle with the ground. That is the testing modal that is used by MIPS to test their helmets. The helmets are tested on three sides, the front, the side and also at a pitched angle of the helmet. These are the parts of a helmet that research has shown is most likely to impact the ground during an accident. At the MIPS testing center in Stockholm, Sweden more than 22,000 tests have been conducted, not to mention numerous independent tests conducted by third parties.

You mean like the ones at Virginia Tech?

Oh, you’ve heard about that?

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Yeah, heard about it but not the finer details. Please do tell.

Virginia Tech university began conducting a series of helmet impact tests in 2011 to determine “a helmet’s ability to reduce linear acceleration and rotational velocity of the head resulting from a range of impacts”. The testing was said to be more rigorous than the usual CPSC Safety Standard testing and involved 30 different helmets from the major helmet brands in different styles and price ranges. The methodology used by Virginia Tech can be found here.

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In 2018 they began making the test results available to the public via their website. Of the 30 helmets tested, only 4 received the top 5-star rating, Bell Stratus MIPS [link to Amazon], Bontrager Ballista MIPS [link to Trek Bikes], Louis Garneau Raid MIPS, and Specialized Chamonix MIPS. You will notice that all four were MIPS helmets.

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Later in 2018, Virginia Tech increased the testing to 50 different helmets. The results firmly cementing MIPS technology in the top 13 positions.

The following year, in March 2019, Bontrager helmets threw a spanner in the works introducing their own technology called WaveCel.

Shortly after that, Virginia Tech held their next round of testing with 54 helmets being tested. The team at MIPS AB was shocked to see that WaceCel had taken First, Third, Eleventh and Twelfth places. How could this be?

I’m not sure how often Virginia Tech does their testing, but another round of testing took place in May 2019 with 64 helmets being tested. This time a $75 Lazer Cyclone MIPS took out top spot relegating Bontrager Specter WaveCel to second place. Oddly enough, another round of tests took place in June 2019 with 69 helmets being tested and the results confirming the previous month’s top 2 positions. MIPS first, WaveCel second.

Personally, I’m all in favor of additional technologies trying to offer alternatives to the current offerings, but I’m a bit confused by Bontrager’s efforts with WaceCel considering that Bontrager is still partnering with MIPS AB. Anyway, that’s a story for another day.

On the 22nd November 2019, Virginia Tech released the results of their latest round of tests in which there were 86 helmets tested. MIPS helmets dominated the results taking the top 4 positions, and Bontrager’s WaveCel technology in fifth and eleventh positions. Tenth place was taken by POC debuting with its patent-pending SPIN (Shearing Pad Inside) technology.

What was most interesting about the latest Virginia Tech results was that out of the 86 helmets tested 29 scored 5 Stars, which is really good news for anyone looking to purchase a new helmet, regardless of which rotational impact technology is used.

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Is MIPS BPS part of the current Helmet Safety Standards?

At the time of writing, none of the main national standards for helmets have been updated to include MIPS or rotational impact energy management testing. However, I doubt we will see anything any time soon. With MIPS being challenged by WaveCel as well as another technology called Koroyd we might have to wait until the dust settles before comprehensive test standards can be agreed upon. If anything, we may see an update to ASTM F1447, which is a voluntary standard. Also, I understand that Australia is currently reviewing their AS/NZS 2063:2008 (Bicycle Helmets Standards) at the present time, but whether it will include a requirement for additional technological protection against brain injuries caused by rotational motion is unknown at this time.

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Nice, so who can wear MIPS helmets?

MIPS helmets are available for all ages and abilities. There are MIPS helmets available for men, women, and children in all the sports activities mentioned above.

Does a MIPS helmet cost more than a non-MIPS helmet?

Yes, but how much varies from brand to brand and model to model. But, average is maybe only $10 to $25 more for MIPS BPS.

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So, is that where we stand today?.

No, not really. The story continues to the present day! Ice hockey helmets were included in the MIPS stable in May 2019.

And, later in the year, at an awards ceremony at the Polhemsfesten in Stockholm, on November 6, MIPS founders Peter Halldin, Hans von Holst and Svein Kleiven received the 2019 Swedish Engineers Polhem Prize.

At the awards ceremony, Peter Halldin said that winning the award was an honor, but their main ambition had always been to reduce the risk of brain damage to helmet users.

Can’t argue with that Peter. Heads don’t bounce, do they? Be sure to wear a helmet, folks!

What is MIPS on a helmet?

So, next time anyone asks you what is MIPS on a helmet, you’ll be able to explain everything to them. (Don’t forget to do the crash simulation using your hands ;) ).

Image and Vimeo video credits to MIPS AB.
Youtube video courtesy Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

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