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Helmets that detect concussions

January 1st, 2018 / By: / Projects

Smartfoam technology developed at
Brigham Young University to monitor for concussions can be used in football helmets, shoulder pads and other sports equipment. Photos: Brigham Young University.

More and more evidence is coming to light about the devastating effects of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries suffered during contact sports like football. Sometimes an athlete doesn’t even know he or she had a concussion and continues playing, possibly making injuries worse.

To help players and coaches determine injuries in real time, mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Jake Merrell and researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, have developed a smartfoam that can signal potential concussions.

The nano-composite material is placed inside a football helmet to test the force of an impact more accurately. When a player sustains a hit, the smartfoam is compressed and nickel nano-particles rub against it, creating a static electric charge similar to a balloon being rubbed against hair. The charge is collected through a conductive electrode in the foam, measured by a microcomputer and transmitted to a computer or smart device. The harder the hit, the higher the voltage recorded.

The collected data is sent directly to the tablet or device of the coach or trainer, providing information within seconds about how hard a player has been hit and the potential for a concussion.

What makes this smartfoam different is that it goes beyond a traditional measure of acceleration standard in systems currently available. The foam measures a composite of acceleration, impact energy and impact velocity to determine the severity and location of an impact—data points that are necessary for accurate measurement of a concussion risk.

According to the research, the measurements are 90 percent accurate. For more information, visit www.byu.edu.

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