Daily commuters in urban India are at high risk of chronic health deterioration stimulated by poor air quality. While those travelling in four-wheelers are safer to some extent, two-wheeler riders are highly exposed to polluted air. Helmets are not sufficient to block out pollution as they are neither equipped with filters, nor have the capability to restrict bad quality air. Consistent use of helmet often causes discomfort. Shellios Technolabs, a startup based out of Delhi, identified this as a challenge requiring immediate attention.
Amit Pathak and Mayank Pathak conceived the idea in the winter of 2016, when Delhi’s air quality index rose close to 1000, creating mass concern. Amit says, “There are a large number of citizens who ride on two-wheelers and are on the road almost throughout the day. There are no proper solutions other than clinical masks to save them. Those masks are uncomfortable, irritate the skin and often need to be changed.These daily commuters are at high risk of catching impaired pulmonary function due to the long term exposure to pollution.”
For a biker, the one thing mandatory while riding is the helmet. Team Shellios found a way to modify these helmets so that these can safeguard riders against pollution alongside injuries. Amit decided to pursue this venture full time and Shellios Technolabs Pvt Ltd was incorporated in August 2017. The design underwent multiple iterations before taking its final form, the Shellios Puros Helmet.
“Initially, we thought of having integrated masks inside the helmet. But that did not solve the inconvenience that masks came with. Finally we decided to create a channel that purifies and delivers clean air in the breathing area inside the helmet”, Amit explains.
The Working Design
Puros is essentially a helmet shell that includes a centrifugal fan powered by a Lithium Ferrous Phosphate (LFP) battery and a specifically designed air purification system. The interior of the helmet is similar to any regular High Quality Safety helmet with a few innovative design modifications. Air ducts are designed to pass through the EPS lining and go on to deliver purified air to the face area, via the air dispensing unit.
Air from outside is pulled in, purified and circulated via the ducts inside the helmet. The helmet shell is currently made of Fiberglass. Filters used in the helmet are easily replaceable. The battery has 3300 mAh capacity that can run for 4-5 hours at peak speed with a single charge.
The team is working on a mobile app which will give real-time information on surrounding air quality, filter condition (a sensor is fitted to read the filter clogging status) and due replacement date, temperature and humidity.
Regarding the underlying electronic components, Amit says, “We have tried out various microcontrollers and hardware to find the optimal performance while keeping costs at check. Initially, we used ESP32, a powerful unit that supports Bluetooth, WiFi and more. But it was getting power-hungry and became an overkill. Moreover, it was expensive. Each IC was costing about $4-$5. Finally, we went ahead with microcontrollers from STMicroelectronics along with their own software toolkit.”
The base helmet weighs at 1.2 kg while the additional accessories add another 300 grams, summing up to about 1.5 kg for the combined unit.
Obstacles in the Way
Amit says that the biggest challenge they faced was getting the mechanical design right. Because of the large component sizes, prototyping costs were also significant. The prototype underwent four iterations of high-level design before one was finalised. The innovation process of the features was difficult as well. “Complexity unravels as you keep delving into the production”, points out Amit.
Scaling up to mass production level was also not easy. He says, “The whole process changes when you scale your product for commercial launch. You need to redesign the product keeping the scale in mind. This is called design for manufacturing (DFM).”
The base helmets are being manufactured at a Delhi-based factory. Finding the right manufacturer was also difficult. Amit explains, “While prototyping, your unit sizes and order volumes are very small. Manufacturers have to spend more time and effort for less production. It is hard to convince them to cooperate for an innovation because changing setup every time for an innovation is not what they make money out of. They make money on manufacturing a large number of units of the same design or product at a go.”
While the base helmet is being manufactured by one partner, the electronic boards are being fabricated by another.
Target Group: Speeding Ahead
The product is set for commercial launch in November. A major strategy to reach out to the target audience is to work closely with the customers themselves. Shellios participates in biker events where the team showcases the Puros prototype and collects feedback.
Amit says, “Our target segment includes the citizens who own a 200cc bike or higher, who are willing to invest a reasonable price for a helmet for safety as well as comfort.” The price tag will be announced soon. Shellios will first roll out the helmets and later deploy the mobile application that is currently under development.
For quality assurance, they are currently getting the product certified by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Regarding marketing strategies, Amit shared, “We will not be very media-heavy. However, we will be active with our customer interactions. We will participate in biker fests during winter months and get direct feedback. Digital marketing will also be an important operation.”
Puros helmets will be distributed through online platforms like Flipkart, Amazon and automotive-specific sites. They will also focus on offline sales through selected auto accessory stores.
Team Shellios has filed for patent for Puros. They plan to strengthen market presence steadily, one step at a time.