With legends like Bo Jackson saying he never would have played in the NFL if he had known about football’s risk of concussion, and with what feels like weekly studies reporting new findings on the relationship between turf and head trauma, helmet to helmet trauma, and so on, there seems to be a lot of information, but not a lot of answers. Here’s a look at two technological advances in the works right now that could help prevent serious injuries on the field.
Bill Gates, famed co-founder of Microsoft, and 20 other inventors recently submitted a patent application for a sensor-laden helmet that could detect concussion-causing impacts, and could assess the damage to the helmet itself, Geekwire reported.
Some of the other 20 inventors come from Intellectual Ventures, a private company that specializes on the development and licensing of intellectual property.
According to the Geekwire article, the helmet has sensors that can measure impact data and send an alert that notifies someone when an impact threshold has been exceeded.
Below is an excerpt from the application that provides a more specific idea of how the helmet will work in relation to injury and communicating said injury.
“Helmet 10 is configured to reduce impact forces, torques, and accelerations to the head of a user in cases of impacts or collisions to the user’s head (e.g., such as collisions between players during a sporting activity, collisions between a motor vehicle operator and other motor vehicles or operators, etc.). Helmet sensors 24 are configured to measure impact data (e.g., at least one of impact forces, torques, accelerations, etc.) regarding an impact to helmet 10. Indicator module 21 is configured to provide an indication when the impact data exceeds an impact threshold. For example, after a substantial impact (e.g., substantial force, acceleration, torque, etc.) to helmet 10 (i.e., a user’s head, neck, etc.) is measured by helmet sensors 24 which exceeds the impact threshold, helmet 10 may provide an indication that required testing needs to be run on helmet 10 to check for damage and/or the user to check for injury (e.g., concussion, neck injury, etc.). The indication may include a change in the profile of helmet 10 (e.g., due to deformations resulting from impacts, etc.), an audible indication (e.g., a sound, a tone, an alarm, etc.), a visual indication (e.g., a light, a flashing light, smoke, etc.), and/or a transmission of a wireless communication to a remote device (e.g., a remote server, laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.). The audible indication and the visual indication may be triggered by controller 18 via at least one of first indicator 20 and second indicator 22. The transmission of the wireless communication may be sent by controller 18 to a remote device to notify an equipment manager, the user, a coach, an official, a doctor, or any other person deemed necessary. In some embodiments, the transmission of the wireless communication is sent based on a schedule or an event (e.g., upon the taking or analysis of sensor data). In other embodiments, transmission of the wireless communication is performed by an RFID tag (active or passive) upon receipt of a query from a remote device (e.g., an RFID reader).”
Want to read the patent application? Click here.
Another advancement comes from one of the three winners of the Head Health Challenge, Viconic.
Viconic took a blast-resistant mat that it already sells to the military and applied it to football fields, Fortune reported. This mat is an underlay that would go underneath the turf on an NFL field, but there’s a catch: The underlay won’t work on a field with real grass.
The underlay is essentially a layer of bubble-like plastic knots that crushes efficiently during impact, then quickly returns to its original shape to absorb the next impact.
To see the underlay in action, watch the video below.
The Head Health challenge, sponsored by GE, Under Armour and the NFL, was an open innovation challenge to award up to $10 million for new innovations and materials that can protect the brain from traumatic injury and for new tools for tracking head impacts in real time.
Photo: Included with the helmet patent.