The latest issue in the NFL over new research revealing the horrendous effects of concussions has led to a sometimes heated national discussion (check out The Concussion Blog for a good rundown if you need to catch up) over whether and how the game will change by taking the more aggressive plays out. Will football become less fun to watch? Softer? A decidedly un-masculine musical number? According to a few die-hards, in a few more years the Super Bowl is going to look something like this :
"First guy to execute a step-touch-chasse-cross-body-lead combination gets this block!"
But where some see a decline of the tough version of America's #1 sport, others are partaking in the other American tradition of using new information to make a new product.
The potential opportunity in question would be Colorado-based Concussion Mitigation Technologies' new design for a football helmet with airbags. Yes, the same invention that stops your head from going through your steering wheel can-with precision and the assistance of a data-driven safety system-hold it in place if someone like David Stewart or Richie Incognito decide they want to try to take it off on the gridiron. From the pages of Design News:
The company's helmet will incorporate multiple strain gages, a small cartridge of carbon dioxide (CO2), scores of tiny airbags, a lithium battery, and a printed circuit board with a microprocessor, memory, and analog-to-digital converters. On field, the helmet will use the strain gages to measure the impact of a hit. Then it will send the data to the microprocessor, compare it to software models in memory, and pressurize the airbags with CO2 when necessary.
-Charles J. Murray, Senior Technical Editor, "Helmet Airbags Target Concussion Issues";
Trend Watch: A Supplement to Design News, Oct. 2012
A common misperception is that the risk of long-term brain trauma comes from lack of structurally sound helmets. Quite the opposite; most helmets are too good at their jobs, holding the skull in place to where it acts as an inflexible wall against the momentum of the brain. This has been cited by all studies as the true culprit of the kind of damage that has led to an unbelievably tragic pattern of ex-NFL player suicides which include Ray Easterling, Andre Waters, and most notably Junior Seau.
Software in the helmet signals airbags to deploy milliseconds
before the brain collides into the skull.
(Too bad it doesn't spell-check. That’s "1st" and 4th" Firing, guys...)
Troy Fodemski, founder of the organization and the concept, believes that tiny airbags planted throughout the helmet may not completely protect the brain from impact, but with the sensors tracking by microseconds where the brain's trajectory heads, airbag deployment can slow down the motion and bring the organ back to a neutral position in the head more quickly. "The human brain wasn't made to withstand 80 G's in 15 milliseconds", Fodenski told Murray. Virgina Tech, which has had an ongoing partnership between its football and biomedical engineering programs to measure the severity of head injuries in the sport, has registered forces up to 100 G's.
Averaging out to a price range near $1000, this is clearly not ready for the market just yet. But with a game on the rise in popularity and the nightmare possibility of NFL-vets lining up for individual lawsuits against the league, the demand is not going away. Clearly, to ensure the safety of all players of the game both young and old, something is going to have to be done. Fodemski's helmet could and should be a step in the right direction.
Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.