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Pollution-eating bike helmet & VR office simulator feature in student product design show

29 July 2021

A bike helmet that ‘eats’ air pollution and a virtual reality office simulator for home workers are a few of the ideas on show from Product Design and Manufacture students at the University of Nottingham.

Credit: Nathan Hassanali
Credit: Nathan Hassanali

For both the BEng and MEng level courses, students utilised a broad range of skills they had developed throughout their programme, such as sketching, prototyping, and digital skills in Computer Aided Design and digital presentation methods to turn problem-solving concepts into useful and aesthetically pleasing products.

Some 40 design ideas are on display in the online exhibition with creative design concepts exploring future devices for healthcare, office- and homeworking to the electronics industry.

Alec Machin, Assistant Professor in Product Design and Manufacture at the University, said: "Our course is quite unique; it blends engineering and technical knowledge with creative problem-solving. During their studies, our students gain a broad range of skills that well-equip them for successful careers as product designers and many go on to land great roles in leading design consultancies as well as manufacturing settings such as the FMCG and automotive sectors. The end-of-year show reflects the calibre and creative talent of our current students and the innovative products they have designed.”

The free exhibition will be available to view online from 19 July 2021 until 2022.

AIRBAN – a bike helmet designed to tackle air pollution

Nathan Hassanali, 21, from Sheffield, is the third-year student on the BEng course. After studying on exchange in China, Nathan became increasingly aware of air pollution and the dangers it poses to public health. 

“Air pollution is the number one environmental health risk, affecting more than 90 percent of the world’s population,” he explains. “For people living in urban areas that exposure is heightened.” 

Cycling, for example, is seen as a healthy and eco-friendly form of transport, sport and exercise and is therefore heavily advocated worldwide. However, recent studies have shown that due to the presence of air pollution, especially in urban areas, any health benefits of cycling are negated.

Most studies recommend either mask wearing or avoiding cycling on days hit by severe air pollution. Masks, Nathan points out, are obtrusive, uncomfortable and don’t seal well to the face; avoiding exposure is not an option for many cyclists – particularly those using bikes to commute. 

Credit: Nathan Hassanali
Credit: Nathan Hassanali

“There is a clear need for design innovation in cycling to provide better protection against inhalation of traffic fumes and dangerous particulates. The solution needed to be as effective, lightweight, and comfortable as possible, without impacting visibility,” Nathan explains. 

Airban is a bike helmet design that draws in polluted air and projects out clean air to a fixed face shield positioned off-set from the face – in front of, but not attached, to the nose and mouth. 

As the rider moves forward, air hits the helmet and is drawn through a large front vent, passing through a filtering element, circulates through a ‘c’-shaped channel which increases the air velocity, forcing it out across the wearer’s face, creating a shield of clean air. In a similar manner, air is also sucked in through a rear vent by a small brushless dc fan. This air passes through a constriction which – based on the venturi effect – creates a pressure drop and velocity increase. The pressure drop creates a suctioning effect which draws in more air through the large front vent. The brushless dc fan can increase air flow even when the rider slows down or stops. which can increase air flow even when the rider slows down or stops. The exiting air flow also acts as a protective barrier, preventing dirty air in the atmosphere from reaching the rider’s airways.

“When you stop riding, say at a crossroads or hitting a traffic jam, a cyclist will have more fumes building up around them,” said Nathan. “There would be reduced air movement around the helmet, so less air will go through the front vent. Instead, you would have to draw in more air from the back vent which has a small, solid-state speed controller – as you decrease in speed the fan will take over to make up for that loss of air flow.”

From both the front and back vent, the incoming air passes through a HEPA filter which removes 99.97 percent of particulates that are invisible to the naked eye (below 0.3 µm) and an activated carbon layer which removes smoke and odours. These layers can easily be cleaned or replaced by unclipping the casing in both the front and the rear, making the helmet long-lasting. 

The helmet can be powered through two means. Rechargeable batteries within the rear or by using a cable that magnetically connects to the rear of the helmet and then connects to a portable battery pack. The portable battery pack has been designed to be a similar size and shape to that of a water bottle so it can be holstered on the frame of the bike, most likely under the saddle. 

Nathan said: “The bike helmet has been designed to be as comfortable as possible with the use of padding and a head size adjustment system for a perfect fit. The frame is extremely lightweight and is offset from the face meaning it is unobtrusive. This frame acts as a physical barrier in order to disperse and prevent any incoming air from interacting with the clean air. It also allows the purified air to flow down through an exit channel towards a breathable position, offering a constant source of clean air.” 

The helmet also has a connected phone app to increase its effectiveness. During a bike ride, the cyclist will have varying exposure to air pollution and their speed will change. “The app could track your GPS and from that calculate your speed and give you varying levels of protection. Along the journey it could also flag areas of high concentrations of air pollution e.g. traffic congestion and increase the airflow accordingly via the fan to compensate the loss of protection. You could also change the fan speed or indicate how much battery power it has left and even track your journey,” adds Nathan.

Overall, Airban is a bike helmet that provides cyclists with much-needed protection against air pollution without interfering with the rider experience or performance. View Nathan’s online portfolio to see more of his design work. 

Virtual Interface – Office Simulator

Jom Primkaew, 21, from Thailand, is a third year on the BEng course. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, many millions of people worldwide abandoning the office to work from home. However, home desk set ups are not always optimal to sit at for long periods, which can affect comfort and even lead to injuries. Equally, some home workers miss the office environment which may have a negative impact on productivity. To combat these issues, Jom chose to make a work ‘pod’ that uses VR technology to simulate any environment the user might chose to work in, from an office to a beach.

Housed within a polycarbonate shell, the simulator containing an ergonomic chair and in-built desk with a VR headset to offer a high-quality immersive experience for the user without compromising on comfort or performance. 

The VR headset can link to a personal computer to also function as a monitor and is specifically designed with the comfort of glasses wearers in mind. 

Jom used a space frame design to support the weight of the head-mounted VR display; in particular to compensate for the glass lenses it contains, which improve image quality, but are much heavier than those found in conventional headsets. The weight-bearing frame also contains a pivot rail to make it easier for the user to tilt and rotate their head and preventing users experiencing neck pain after prolonged use. The VR headset is covered by a head dome that prevents light from interfering with the image displayed on the LCD. The dome – which was modelled on the same principals as a floor-standing, salon hair dryer hood – also features vents to increase airflow and built-in speakers for music and calls. 

“I got the idea that if I can create a device that can change the environment it will enhance the worker’s experience, so I integrated VR into the design concept. Conventional VR headsets are too heavy and uncomfortable for long-time wear so behind the chair I created a metal frame to take the weight of the VR simulator. The overall result is a compact and comfortable home office that can transport you anywhere you want to be all without leaving the front door.” 

The chair is height and position adjustable, along with an in-built foot rest, and the shell itself has wheels and ergonomic handle holes to be easily moveable. Cable storage is integrated into the table to organise wires from any computer accessories such as keyboard or mouse. There is also a built-in USB hub to connect and charge accessories. Space-saving side storage was also integrated into the device to stow the desk and tidy away any accessories. Jom estimates the ‘pod’ would cost between £100-300 to manufacture. All images below should be credited to Jom Primkaew.


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