Bike-share programs are popping up in big cities across the country at a rapid pace, and most are missing a key safety item: the helmet.  To up the number of riders on congested city streets with head protection, HelmetHub, the brainchild of recent MIT graduates, will start dispensing helmets for rent at several bike-share stations in the Boston area within the next few weeks. I spoke with co-founder and CFO Breanna Berry about the program in this edited and condensed transcript.

What's the launch going to look like?

We'll be releasing our pilot program soon in Boston. It will start off with four machines at four locations. Those will be directly attached to the bike-sharing docks. It will expand around October or November to 14 machines.

How did you come to work with the city?

The city of Boston's bike director, Nicole Freedman, presented at MIT our senior year in our capstone design class. She came in and said that the city has this great bike-sharing program [and that] the only problem is it doesn't have helmets available for users. The city views it as a huge liability, and it's something the city wants for its citizens. That drove our initial interest; we thought there was a substantial market for it. We presented a prototype -- both to the city of Boston and to our class -- and the city of Boston followed through.

How do the machines work?

There's a touch-screen interface. The helmet drops below where the touch screen is located. It's pretty easy to pick up. You put it on, go for a ride, and when you get back you'll rescan your credit card and [return the helmet]. There are two different sides for dispensing and returning the helmets. When they're returned, they're taken out of circulation, inspected and sanitized. There's room for 36 helmets on the dispensing side and 24 on the return side.

Is that enough helmets?

We designed our machines [so that they'll] only need to be visited once a day or less [to collect helmets for cleaning]. If it does take off, we designed it to have three times more helmets than we anticipate people getting. We could be totally off with that number. We understand there might be some need for redesign and development with our product. But we don't anticipate that being within the next year.

Do you always use a helmet when you ride a bike?

I do. Always. You'd be crazy not to use a helmet.


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