Professional football has one of the higher risks of injury then other sports. Because the sport involves running, catching, pushing, tackling, and such the potential injuries can range from a twisted ankle to major brain injuries. It is the latter that has become more dominant in the sport. Concussions and head traumas in football have led parents as well as professional players to readdress the way in which the game is played, specifically in the protective gear. While smart fabrics and smart technologies are not new to the world, the integration of such technologies into the sports world is relatively new. Due to this, engineers and developers are having to meet pressures to find solutions to common injuries, outdated technologies, and design flaws in traditional equipment. Meeting the call for a safer helmet, the development of a Smart Helmet has been engineered.
Smart Technology, a preventive measure
While the Smart Football helmet does not perform specific diagnostics or give any major medical information about the player, the helmet does allow for a level of monitoring to help prevent additional injury. This is done through a series of sensors which record the force of impact to the helmet. Depending upon the position and the force applied to the Smart Helmet, a reading of a possible concussion will appear on the corresponding app. It can be predicted that as the data of the symptoms proves to be effective, that the technology will develop further in order to provide more detailed information about the type of trauma, the area of the brain or spine effected, and the possible long term effects of the impact. As of now, however, it is just a tool to help identify and keep prolonged injury from occurring.
The issue which will arise from the smart helmet is whether or not coaches and players will use the indicator appropriately. Because the Smart Helmet does not definitively establish whether or not a person has sustained an injury, the final call will be for the coach and the player. Of course, if the app is integrated into professional football (such as the NFL) then it would be reasonable to conclude that any player who sets off the alert would need to be checked by the on-site paramedic and cleared. Yet, this again poses a problem as the force exerted on a helmet is sure to cause multiple indicators to go off. It really will fall into a risk versus reasonable margin of injury.
New design for increased safety
According to CNN’s interview with the creator, the smart helmet has been engineered to re-route the majority of a trauma away from the brain. Much like the steel frame of a car forces the majority of the impact around the vehicle instead of through it, the strategically designed flexible areas allow for a level of shifting within the device to reduce the blunt force of impact to the head. Additionally, the facemask cover has been secured and redesigned to provide less strain on the helmet and the player, reducing the risk of injury as well.
Due to the engineering considerations, extensive 3D modeling and testing were required for the helmet. Using both 3D simulations as well as in-house force testing on prototypes, the helmet was able to be optimized to withstand blunter force impact then the standardized helmet.
Not yet ready for grown men
The Smart Helmet has been tested and introduced to the non-professional market, specifically in high-school and in recreational football. And where the helmet has acted as a suitable gadget for detecting collisions in non-professional games, there is still much that needs to be developed before the smart helmet is ready for the professional league. First, the helmet must be able to withstand continuous high impacts without compromising the helmet’s ability to read and deliver information when the force exerted on the helmet could cause a trauma. Secondly, weight considerations and head diameters need to be accounted for in the algorithm. A person weighing 220 has a different probability of head injury than a person that weighs in at 310lbs. Finally, a standardization of the reading and the way in which the information will be used in a professional game will need to be implemented. This will undoubtedly be regulated by the NFL and rely heavily upon a team of medical professionals and the engineers of the helmet.
Could the Smart Helmet make its way into major sporting events? Quite possibly. With the number of head injuries in football, any equipment which would reduce the cost of treatment and increase the safety of star players is likely to be integrated. Then again it all amounts to the cost of the device, the effectiveness of prevention, and the ability of the player to perform with such a device on. I would not be surprised if not only football, but baseball and hockey also use some form of a smart helmet in the near future.