TECH WATCH

How high-tech is body ar­mour?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Garage -

Con­ven­tional body ar­mour is a foam which ab­sorbs en­ergy as it de­forms, just like a sofa does when you flop onto it. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers – for ex­am­ple Dainese with their ar­madillo-style back pro­tec­tor – add a hard outer shell to re­sist pen­e­tra­tion by sharp ob­jects and spread the load.

Oth­ers, such as Force­field, use dense, en­ergy-ab­sorb­ing foam on its own, in case a hard shell cre­ates an abra­sion point which could hole the leathers as you slide down the road. Both sys­tems have their mer­its.

But there is another way. It was in­vented in Brighton by a guy called Richard Palmer, and it’s called D3O. It isn’t a foam, but a mould­able poly­mer putty some­where be­tween a liq­uid and a solid. Pick it up and it res­onates, a bit like when you bang the end of a plas­tic pipe with the flat of your hand. Push it slowly with your fin­ger and it de­forms eas­ily. But whack it and it goes stiff.

The mol­e­cules in­side the D3O lock to­gether on im­pact. As soon as the im­pact fades, they slip past each other as be­fore. The corn­flour in cus­tard does the same thing, which is why TV pre­sen­ter John Tickle could once walk across a swim­ming pool filled with the stuff, then sank when he stood still.

In body ar­mour D3O is sta­bilised by a car­rier poly­mer, but it re­tains its other-worldly shock ab­sorp­tion prop­er­ties. Tests on an im­pact rig to the CE stan­dard show that a D3O knee pro­tec­tor trans­mits less force than very well-known ri­vals, de­spite be­ing thin­ner.

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