Concussions, aka the most minor of traumatic brain injuries, are scary things. Prevalent in many full-contact sports, they’ve thankfully been the focus of increasing mainstream attention over the past several years, including the aptly named 2015 film Concussion.
Texas Tech student Alberto Garcia is among the technologists hoping to come up with a solution, however. He’s spent the past several years working on a smart helmet and shoulder pad system, complete with built-in Arduino microcontroller, that’s designed to help reduce traumatic injury in football players.
“It has stabilizers around the head and neck that are controlled with the microcontroller,” he said. “It has four sensors around the helmet and shoulder pads, and also an accelerometer inside the helmet, which reads the change in force and speed. If a player feels an impact, the stabilizers activate in microseconds to reduce the whiplash effect on the neck. Therefore, you can not only reduce concussions — but also reduce the odds of a player receiving spinal cord or neck injuries.”
Garcia said that he was inspired after reading an article describing the way in which animals such as woodpeckers and rams are able to undergo the kind of head impacts that would prove dangerous in a human — without any apparent ill effects. They have stabilizers built into their necks, which help to prevent the kind of whiplash that is so dangerous for people like football players. “It was sort of a hint from nature, which helped get me really interested,” Garcia continued.
Having started working on his smart helmet after suffering a concussion playing football as a high school sophomore, Garcia is currently deciding whether to either license his creation or market it himself through a startup. At the age of just 19, he’s certainly got plenty of time to decide.
“I don’t think American football will ever go away, but we need to create a better solution for protecting our football players,” he said. “And not just football players, either — but people doing other tough and physical activities, as well.”