What do the NFL, Under Armour, General Electric and the government agency the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have in common? All of them are hoping to protect the heads of athletes and soldiers, and they’re putting down money to help spur the marketplace to innovate. The consortium’s Head Health Challenge III is an open innovation competition developed to support the discovery, design and development of advanced materials designed to absorb and dissipate impacts on the head. The five challenge winners will each receive $200,000 and will work with consortium partners on their innovations.
"The innovations in material science that we've seen in this challenge will have significant applications in a range of equipment that will better protect our athletes, soldiers, children and others," said Jeff Miller, NFL Senior Vice President of Health and Safety Policy.
Materials science refers to the development of new materials, and may involve chemistry, nanotechnology, physics and other sciences the Head Health Consortium is hoping that the grants will spur the marketplace to improve the performance of protective gear, playing surfaces, and equipment for athletes, members of the military and others.
The challenge, part three of a multiyear initiative, was first announced in January 2015. Collectively, the Head Health Initiative will award $60 million, with $2 million of the money designated for innovative impact-absorption materials. The lion’s share of the money -- $40 million – is earmarked for research departments developing next -generation imaging technologies to improve diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury, which can be hard for physicians, parents and coaches to spot.
The Challenge III award winners include Alba Technic, LLC, which has developed a shock-absorbent honeycomb material; Charles Owen Inc., with produces cellular structures that use a stacked, origami-like design to optimize energy absorption; Corsair Innovations and its new textile that uses tiny, spring-like fibers to repel rotational and linear impacts; Dynamic Research Inc. (Torrance, Calif.) and 6D Helmets LLC, two companies collaborating to evolve 6D's single-impact suspension technology for use in repeated impact conditions; and the University of Michigan, where researchers have designed a lightweight, multi-layered composite that includes a viscoelastic material. One overall Head Health Challenge III winner will be selected from the five awardees to receive a $500,000 grand prize.
All of the innovations are designed for a similar purpose: to reduce injuries from impact, particularly for a player’s head. Athletes today (and the parents of youth athletes) are becoming increasingly aware of the long-term dangers of the routine head trauma players of contact sports experience.
"By utilizing our open innovation platform, we've discovered some of the most forward-thinking material innovators that will positively affect the future of impact protection,” said Kevin Haley, president of product and innovation for Under Armour. “Our hope is that the groundbreaking work being done by our five winners will help drive material innovation in the name of safety across a variety of applications and we are extremely impressed with the progress made to-date."