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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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