A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Toyota Ideas for Good Challenge prototyping weekend at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. Stu Selthun was one of the five challenge winners who I met that weekend. Stu’s idea uses the Toyota T.H.U.M.S. (Total Human Model for Safety) technology to gather impact data from cycling accidents to help build a better bike helmet. Stu recently shared more information about his winning idea and his whirlwind trip to Pittsburgh in an email interview.

MNN: Please tell me a little about you and your family.

Stu Selthun: I'm an IT manager, married, with two daughters. I enjoy reading fiction and non-fiction cycling, hiking and travel.

How did you first hear about the Toyota Ideas for Good Campaign?

I think I saw a print ad or two, but ultimately it was a commercial on TV that caused me to start thinking about it, and to submit my idea.

How and why did you come up with the idea to use Toyota's T.H.U.M.S. technology in a bike helmet?

I commute by bicycle to work, and also enjoy riding in my free time, so cycling is kind of an obsession for me. There are many aspects of helmets that are discussed and debated by cyclists. One of the most informative web sites I have seen is the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, bhsi.org. There's a lot to digest on that site, but it gives me the sense that bicycle helmets and testing standards still have a lot of room for improvement. This was on my mind when I saw the level of detail that the T.H.U.M.S. simulator models, which seemed like a much better way to think about what happens to a skull and brain in a crash than just g-forces, which seems to be the limit of concern since that's all the current standards consider.

How did it feel when you were notified that you were one of the 25 finalists? One of the five winners?

When I heard I was one of 25 finalists, and one of five in the T.H.U.M.S. category, I decided that with about a 20 percent chance of winning a new car, I had better take it seriously and start working hard to get votes for the idea. The five of us who won would all like to know how many votes we got, by the way! It was a very steady effort to reach out to everyone I know, and to try to get them to get everyone they know, to vote for me. Friends of friends made it happen, certainly. In the last three days, the voting looked particularly close, and I was focused on reaching out to people most of the day and night. When they notified me that I had won, it felt strange, in that it's by far the biggest thing I've ever won, and I don't even think I directly know anyone else who won a car, either. Other people have told me that since, by the way — I'm the first person they know who has won a car. After they notified me, though, I had to keep it confidential for a period of time until a few additional steps were completed, and sitting on that news was very difficult. I think my Mom is still a little mad at me that I didn't even tell her until the official announcement.

Tell me about your time at Carnegie Mellon University working with the guru, Deeplocal engineers, Toyota staff and others.

After I had time to think about what I had won, I got equally excited about the trip to CMU for the prototyping weekend as I was about winning the car. And the weekend lived up to that expectation, and more. Deeplocal is very adept at developing ideas into things that work, thoughts into functioning objects. They have engineers and coders who know how to make it happen. To be in that lab at CMU with Deeplocal, the engineers from Toyota, the Gurus in the contest, and the researchers from CMU, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Being followed around by the video production crews was also a strange, new experience for me. I was impressed by the combination of creativity, skill, knowledge, and professionalism of everyone there. And there was this sense of open-minded exploration in the air, like we actually could work on prototyping ideas, moving them forward, in ways that might make the world a better place. Now that CMU owns the ideas and the rights to develop them further, I hope that the bike helmet black box, as well as the other ideas, do develop into something useful and helpful. I know a lot of people who saw my video on YouTube, and heard about the winning idea, contacted me and told me they loved the idea of using Toyota technology to engineer better bike helmets.


Thank you Stu, for sharing your story. It was great to meet you and your family in Pittsburgh. Learn more about Stu’s ideas and the other winning submissions by visiting the Toyota Ideas for Good Challenge website.

Ideas for Good: Building a better bike helmet
Stu Selthun discusses his winning submission in the Toyota Ideas for Good Challenge.