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Helmet Sensors: The Latest Weapon in the Crusade Against Concussion

19 Jan, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic

Smartphones. SmartTVs. SmartHelmets?

Wearable technology just keeps evolving. As the sports industry continues its crusade against concussions, protective equipment companies are using networked sensors to try and solve the problem of undiagnosed head injuries and find ways to prevent them. Now, sensor technology is being added to helmets to identify athletes whose techniques may involve excessive head or helmet contact that could lead to chronic health problems.

Helmet manufacturer Schutt Sports recently teamed with Brain Sentry, a manufacturer of wearable impact sensors, to produce the ‘smart helmet’ that can help prevent and diagnose concussion injuries in sports. The companies’ first product, a $40 helmet, will be launched sometime this year.

It works like this: the Schutt helmet is designed for impact absorption, but should a strike occur, sensor technology will allow coaches to determine if there has been excessive head/helmet contact. The goal is to determine which training methods may be too high-risk for head injuries, and should they occur, the data from the helmet will allow health care professionals to treat he injury in a more targeted way.

Robert Erb, President and CEO of Schutt, said his company chose Brain Sentry because it believes that the latter company offers some of the most advanced sensor technology on the market, and that the partnership will help make great strides in improving the safety of football with renewed focus on proper tackling and blocking technique. Schutt also manufactures helmets for lacrosse players.

Neurologists are generally approving of the idea of helmets with impact sensors.

“The era of dumb helmets, in which coaches and trainers have no clue how many impacts that brain inside that helmet has sustained, is quickly coming to an end,” said Julian Bailes, MD, in an interview published by Brain Sentry. “I think sensors are a big part of the solution for the sport.”

The technology will be available in certain top-of-the-line Schutt models, such as the Vengeance VTD and AiR XP Pro VTD.

Will new technology come too late for the game, though? It's a fair question. The heightened concern over brain injury -- and over impact injuries in general -- has contributed to a decline in the popularity of football with parents. A 2014 Bloomberg survey found that 50 percent of Americans don’t want their children to play football. Only 17 percent said they expect football to be more popular 20 years from now than it is today.

Even NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, who has dedicated his life to football, is in agreement. In an interview featured on "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble," Ditka noted if he had a son today, he wouldn’t want that child to play football, according to a Saturday report by the Chicago Tribune.

“Nope,” Ditka replies. “I wouldn't. And my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do.”

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