Fodemski's solution would mitigate damage to the brain by firing the airbags when the brain is about to hit the inside of the skull. The company says that its airbags would provide inward force, serving to nudge the brain back to neutral sooner, rather than having to wait for eight or 10 more collisions while the brain moves back and forth. "All leading theories say that the axons -- the wires between the neurons -- are tearing," Fodemski said. "In some cases, the axons can regenerate or repair. In some cases, they can't. But eventually, you exhaust the brain's capacity to repair the neuro-pathways."
A test recording of the system in operation shows which bags are opening and closing (on left of screen) and which transducers are being actuated (right side). Upper right displays the execution of assembly language. (Source: Concussion Mitigation Technologies LLC)
Fodemski's idea builds on earlier work done at Virginia Tech and at other universities, where engineers fitted helmets with accelerometers and associated electronics to monitor impact on players. The smart helmets showed that some particularly hard hits resulted in accelerations of 100 Gs or more to the head.
Fodemski said he doesn't yet know what his football helmets will cost, but it's believed that they could run several times as much as today's helmets, which often cost between $175 and $300. Concussion Mitigation Technologies also hopes to place the technology in other sports, such as hockey, baseball, and skiing, as well as in the military. Initial prototypes for football are expected to be ready in about six months. "It's time to start thinking bigger about this issue," Fodemski said. "We're talking about the brain, which is an organ that can't be replaced."
What a great idea and so necessary, for both professional atheletes, our kids, as well as military and other rescue personnel. Clearly the problem is getting the cost down so it can be produced and commercialized at an affordable price point. I would think the NHL or NFL would buck up for the helmet, regardless of the expense. But in order to get it past the professional sports world, it's going have to become far more accessible. That's where they need to spend time on the engineering.
Beth, good point. I think this is the way to go, though. Let the professionals, for whom a $1000 helmet would not be a burden, bear the cost of engineering and proof of concept. If it works in that arena, then others will decide it is worthwhile and the volumes will go up. Let's hope it works, becuase this is becoming a problem we are aware of and that is really preventable.
Completely agree with you Naperlou. Human brains are not architected to withstand that kind of force. I'm sure the military has similar technology already, but what about this type of sensor-based airbag technology for helmets worn by soldiers/reporters in the field that are subject to IED attacks. Folks like journalist Bob Woodruff could have been a beneficiary.
I agree, Beth. I can't imagine that any soft body part is capable of standing up to 100 G's without sustaining some damage. Most amazing to me was the revelation that the brain can snap back and forth as many as 11 times from one hit. It's no wonder that many of these athletes, after years of repeated hits, get punchy.
I should be interesting to see how this works. Some of the impact you see in the NFL seems so rough that even air bags in the helmet wouldn't be able to cut out all of the brain bumping. I guess if you could mitigate the impact even somewhat, it would help.
Beth, I think it's very necessity to cover the head while playing football and hockey. The chance for collision and traumas are very high in these types of games. Now in Cricket they are using helmets. I just wondered why such initiatives are not taken so far by International football and Olympic Associations for the saftey of players.
Charles, thanks for the vital info, even we are looking for a similar head protecting bag for our official football team. Last year during the state level competition, two of our employs get collide with opposite team members and get injured in head. So the protective air bags can be used to avoid such traumas. Hope it will be available in market very soon.
It's probably viewed as sacrilege by some, but professional football is an entertainment industry. It contributes value to society... how?
So apart from the notion that we could live without subjecting players to those 80G shocks...and all that implies... let's consider the stimulus-response problem:
You don't know from what direction or when a shock load will occur, nor do you know its magnitude. Yet, you would presume to deliver a series of countervailing forces from up to 80 small airbags, to offset the attack vector?
With all due respect to mems sensors and uP code... there would seem to be a better than even chance that the airbag equipped helmet would deliver a series of lagging blows to the wearer, extending the initial trauma in the time domain, and scattering it spatially.
It might be that this could reduce the single vector shock materially, but produce an extended "rope-a-dope" trauma from various angles. But would this be progress?
At some point, I think we need to recognize that if hitting brick walls hurts, one should stop doing it. And if hitting brick walls is considered entertainment... asking why might be in order.
Great point about football being entertainment. The sport, like hockey, finds that spectators like more action, or rather big hits and violence, better than a regular game. So, it appears that the violence in the game is partially driven by rules designed to maximize revenues. Unfortunately, although I've read this in newspapers I haven't assembled the necessary backup, so this is hearsay as of now.
Also, the problem may be far more insidious than a big hit as brain injury may be a result of long term shock, much of it minor, starting from childhood. Repetitive Head Injury Syndrome mentions that this is not well known.
I was talking to a friend who is a big fan, and a season ticket holder to the Bears, and he mentioned that this long term minor shock issue has been discussed by ESPN commentators, which means that it is well known within the sport. This implies that while 80G shocks are the concern of this developer, the ultimate problem may be a long history of much more subtle shocks. Again, I have not researched this, so take this as hearsay.
Therefore, the real question may indeed be why do we support and promote entertainment that has a high probability of resulting in brain damage, even if more subtle than that that lead Dave Duerson to take his own life. Remediating trauma is a good thing, but not necessarily so that people can make a lot of money at the expense of others or even themselves.
@jhankwitz: you're correct, head trauma doesn't cause Parkinson's Disease, which is what Mohammed Ali has.
My mom was a huge sports fan and LOVED the Oakland Raiders the 70's. That's the era when the Raider Nation was born. Sports have become progressively more violent, as almost all entertainment has. Seeing the technology attempt to catch up for the long-term safety of the players is a good step forward but other solutions are needed.
NRDW and others have made good points about solving the problem at the front end, preventing the trauma from reaching the brain. That can't happen with a new helmet. That changes in how the games are played.
Last time I heard airbags were deployed by an explosive device and I'm not sure running around with 7 or 8 little explosive triggered airbags triggered by accelerometer wrapped around one's head is very attractive. Too many variables for this engineer. I can see the Headlines " xxxx Killed when his helmet air bag deployed violently" NTSB ( or ATF?) investigating. Would every player have to have an explosives license? What about the felons? Would we need a new Government Agency to investigate? Another FDA type of Agency to "Approve" the devices? Would we let the NIST set the standards? Lots of high paying jobs there. i digress.
I think the option would be to go back to the old days when the helmet was more like a aviators helmet. The incentive for using one's head as a Battering Ram would certainley be less and the injuries much fewer. Put a weight and height limit on each man on the line just like Jockeys. Remember when the Race cars went too fast? they made the engines smaller. much better idea.
We are slowly becoming like the Ancient Romans when we have so much time on our hands that we go to the "Games" to keep our minds off of the dismal economic condition of our country. Football is not a sport anymore. There is no real skill involved. It is a brute force contest with men trying to injure each other rather than play like Sportsmen.
Interesting response, jljarvis, and I think a very valid perspective. The technology can do more harm than good if not implemented properly and is it possible to do so? Very complex project indeed! And while I certainly agree with you that as the doctor says, "If it hurts, don't do it" human nature has proved that it will do otherwise regardless. Just like the multiple discussions we are having about distractions in vehicles. It is a proven fact that texting while driving is engaging in dangerous behavior because of the distraction to the driver - yet it is rampant. Rather than saying - stop texting - companies are looking at ways to make cars "smarter." I see a trend here that just won't go away because people kick up a huge fuss when their toys are threatened...
That said - I truly do hope this technology works and becomes cost effective because I certainly don't advocate not participating in contact sports if they can be made safer. While there are all kinds of reasons one can bring up against football and hockey, there are all kinds of reasons why they are a good thing too. I hope this helmet concept can be developed into a successful marketable product that can also be made affordable.
While I intuitively prefer the notion of improved passive protection, this is an interesting idea.
But as always, 'Watch what you wish for.' Putting on any protective gear actually encourages harder hits, resulting in our current situation; mutiple, repeated concussions with no apparent external injury.
Maybe we should go backwards with the equipment. Take off all that hard body padding, use a compliant helmet, then bruise and break a few bones now and then, in the process lowering the force of hits and incidence of head trauma. Those broken bones can take the place of unconciousness, in endless replays.
Another technological alternative, would be to actively measure the force of head trauma in real time, and pull participants from the game the moment they have received some numerical setpoint based on developing injury algorithms.
As long as we let boxers get into the ring, allow hockey players to drop their gloves, continue glorifying the big hit, etc., we really can't pretend we are really concerned about the long term results of head injury in sports.
Just being provocative, as my views on this are mutable and unsophisticated. Athletes are aware of the potentialities, and have to balance risks, vs big paydays.
Similar sentiments. Encase a player in kevlar body armor, increase his mass and train his muscles to develop devastating power, and he (almost always 'he') will feel invincible. He will be hurt, or he will hurt others. I've wondererd myself whether or not we should perhaps take American football back to ligher pads and leather helmets. The incidence of life-changing injury might be reduced. And the build of the best athletes in the sport might change to a better compostion for long-term health. Similarly, I've wondered whether or not we might greatly reduce death and injury in motor vehicles by staging the driver's platforrm out on the front bumper - good visibility and VERY exposed. OK, so we won't do that, but one has to admit that a driver's behavior would be different in that position from what it is when encased in the 4000 lb of steel armor and airbags of a modern SUV. I know this first hand. I drive from 'the front bumper position,' more or less, since I commute on my local roads on a bicycle. And I wear a helmet, although I think its most useful purpose is for the mounting of lights at a height that the SUV drivers can see when they're up close.
I certainly enjoy football and agree completely with the notion that engineers just might play some part in aiding efforts to solve problems with head injuries. Concussion Mitigation Technologies has a "yeoman" task ahead to perfect the device Charlie is describing.I applaud their efforts but there is one issue that won't be solved by engineers—I will explain.Several years ago I visited a client in Chicago.A firm that produces hydro-pneumatic tanks for the well water industry.I stayed at the Palmer House downtown. Very nice accommodations indeed.The second evening, which was Thursday, I headed to my room to get dressed for dinner; jumped on the elevator, pushed the button for the third floor. Doors close—almost!Then, they open again to allow three players from the Minnesota Viking to enter. The Bears played the Vikings on Sunday and the visiting team was also staying at the Palmer House.Folks, I drive a car smaller than any one of those guys.There were HUGE!As the doors closed, my significance eroded and when completely shut, I became a boy among men.This is the problem, the players aren't going to get any smaller and the hits, regardless of what body part is taken out, will not cease.Another thing, there are actually two hits, the first impact occurs when one player drives into another; the second impact occurs when the brain hits the inside surface of the skull. That's where the real damage occurs and I'm not too sure there is a real "fix" for the second impact.Just a thought.At any rate—great article Charlie.
I've had the opportunity to meet football players at the pro and college level, Bob, and I agree completely. Weight training has made them stronger, and pro scouts now also look for large lineman (6'-6" and above) who can carry an amazing amount of weight. It's scary to think of the wallop that a fast-moving 6'-6" 320-lb lineman can deliver to the head.
I had a similar thought - that these shocks are for play. But I also have a teenaged son and know that he is going to do dangerous things. He has already gotten 3 concussions during play.
Not only is there a question about delay but I also have the question as to how does an airbag help? If a certain amount of shock is going to make the brain hit the bone that is surrounding it, how is padding the outside of that same bone going to protect the brain. It is not going to stop the impact of the brain on the bone. I do not see how it will stop the multiple occurances of impact. I can see how if timed improperly, where it can do more damage than good.
I will commend the attempt to think about the problem, but from my point of view if you want to stop damage you have to stop the impact from transfering to the brain and not react to it afterwards.
I've read many of the medical studies on this type of head injury and long term effects and they are very interesting. As a former player and little league coach - we've had inflatable padding in helmets for a long time. NONE of my players had a head injury because I taught them how to hit, how to take a hit and most importantly, NOT to use the helmet/head as a weapon.
A helmet full of airbags has got to be set up for quick replacement of expended padding so I can get the player back in the game which means I have another pile of expensive kit to carry down the sidelines and tools to replace them.
What is needed at all levels of the sport is harsh/severe penalties for using the head/helmet that way. I can't stress this enough - eject the offending player some number of games or for the rest of the season. At the pro level, suspension plus 10% or 25% of their salary for that year. The penalty needs to fit the crime.
Great link, jeffbiss. I think we're at the starting point of a long-term trend here. Ultimately, the supporting data will reach a point where it can't be ignored. It may take decades, but eventually we'll see some of these contact sports being dropped by high schools and colleges.
ChasChas, you've raised a really good point here. I know that this company has brought its technology to neurological boards and even to the Mayo Clinic, but as an engineer, I will still want to see the empirical results after the prototypes are completed. When talking to the inventor, one of my responses was that it seemed like the best place for the airbags was inside the skull, rather than outside. He noted that one of the neurologists had said the same thing. I'm going to want to follow the development of this technology and hope to report on future developments in Design News.
Here is a possibility, Charles. The air bag inflates and starts the head moving away from the blow and the helmet moving into the blow before the full force of the blow is delivered. But this action might have to be more violent than the blow itself in order to work quick enough. Just some food for thought.
I'm wondering if this addresses the problem. Is it the actual blow to the head that is real cause of concussion injuries? If so, this might be a solution. However, if it is the brain "sloshing" around inside the skull, this seem to be like putting the air bag on the outside of your car.
Yes Jack, that's exactly what we are kicking around. It would help to reduce the brain sloshing if the cushioning of the helmet padding had no rebound - like a air bag. I'm thinking now that this is the approach this idea is using, from the empirical stand point.
Here is a question that may have been addressed, but it goes along with automotive airbags also: "what happens after?" The little bubbles bust and save the brain, but does the system reset? Or is it like the airbag system in a car, where the presumption is that the car will be scrapped after any collision that makes the bags fire. Possiblythe helmet delivers a mesage that it is used, but probably not. Will it protect well enough next time?
Good question, William K. The helmet will still be usable. The plan is for each helmet to have a removable C02 cartridge. The CO2 inflates the bags. One hit depletes the cartridge. More cartridges would be kept on the sidelines and would be inserted during the games.
I see, cartridge inflators with a fresh one for each use of the helmet. My guess is that these will not be long lasting in use, and that they will be expensive enough to never get down to high school football teams. I can see running out of the very expensive cartidges being a common happening. Then there would be less safety than with a current helmet.
Whaty they need to develope now is one that uses compressed air, like fromn a bike pump. The current crop of bike pumps are quite small and very effective. Also, they are "cool".
I may be wrong about this, William_K, but I believe there are helmets out there that use air as a cushion. I don't know if they can be pumped up, but I do know that basketball shoes have pneumatic bladders that can be pumped up by pressing on the shoe's tongue.
Charles, I don't have any references here to back me up, but I do think that ther are helmets available that can be pumped up, although I'm not sure if this was as much of a cushioning thing or a design to improve the fit for an individual player. I seem to remember a nameless retired-unretired-retired... Packer having one of those a number of years ago.
Jack: As you mentioned, I think the idea of those air cushions has been to make the helmet fit tighter around the head. Would they provide better cushioning against concussion than a helmet that selectively turns on certain air cushions in sequence? I wish I knew. It will be interesting to watch the development of this technology to see if it offers a substantial advantage.
It's nice to see someone working on this issue. Now whether or not this is a practical solution is another matter. We'll see how it evolves. I'm thinking this is akin in some ways to the automotive crash problem, for which the solution is more than just adding airbags. If you think about it, the car has a "cage" that encloses the passenger, restraint devices, collapsible zones to absorb the shock and airbags. Maybe a more comprehensive helmet design is called for that incorporates these concepts.
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