Flexible football helmet absorbs hits like a car bumper, could put an end to concussions

Despite the fact football continues to enjoy immense worldwide popularity (estimates put fan numbers at or above 400 million), the sport remains under constant scrutiny for its approach —or lack thereof— to concussions. In light of this ongoing criticism, the NFL finally acknowledged the negative impact concussions have on its billion dollar business and opted to start awarding research grants geared towards finding a solution. One such company that took the NFL’s greenbacks and ran is Vicis, a Seattle-based firm who just debuted an innovative new helmet it hopes has the ability to address one of football’s biggest problems.

Dubbed the Zero1, Vicis’ concussion solution is a multilayered, flexible helmet that’s particularly adept at diminishing rotational and linear impact forces. Specifically, the helmet was constructed to utilize four separate layers which work in perfect harmony with one another. It’s top layer —the Lode Shell— absorbs impact by locally deforming a specific part of a helmet. Think of it reacting like a bumper in a fender bender. Though the tech has existed in the auto industry for dozens of years, Vicis is the first company to bring this strategy to a football helmet.

The Zero1’s next layer — the Core Layer — is where Vicis (a self-proclaimed “technology company”) expertly blends engineering, medicine, and sport. Utilizing a highly-engineered column-like formation, the Core Layer essentially bends and buckles in all directions to mitigate linear and rotational forces. Beneath that lies the Arch Shell, the interior of the helmet specifically designed to perfectly fit a player’s aspect ratio (i.e. the relationship between head length and breadth). The Form Liner makes up the final layer, designed exclusively to work in unison with the Arch Shell to conform to a player’s head topography and distribute pressure on the head accordingly.

Aside from each layer of the Zero1 setting an incredibly balanced foundation, Vicis’ Axis Fit System is the glue that keeps everything together. After spending an extensive amount of time understanding various athlete head shapes and sizes, the company devised an innovative, and anatomically correct, approach to sizing its helmet. Ditching the traditional convention of purely measuring head circumference, Vicis uses a person’s head length and breadth to achieve the ultimate fit. Plain and simple, a better fit assures better protection.

“We don’t have the typical helmet, with the hard shell and some padding on the inside,” says Vicis CEO and founder Dave Marver in a video on the company’s website. “We can reduce acceleration, we can make a difference and it’s because we’ve come about this in such a profoundly different way.”

Vicis’ video, with the help of current (Seattle Seahawk Doug Baldwin) and former (Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Roger Staubach) football players, posits that even one concussion is a concussion too many and that head injuries threaten the game of football. Acknowledging concussions to continue to be a “common event” in the game of football, Vicis CTO and Founder Per Reinhall adds that if “this concussion problem is not addressed,” he thinks the “game is in danger.”

Moving forward, Vicis plans to put its Zero1 helmet to the ultimate test; Virginia Tech’s STAR rating system for concussion protection. Essentially, the system gives helmets a five-star score based on how well they absorb force impact, as well as their ability to protect against head injuries. As Virginia Tech states on its website, even a five-star rating does not mean the helmet is completely concussion-proof, and athletes who play contact sports still run a risk of sustaining head injuries.

As the issue of concussions continues to be the elephant in the room (or stadium), it’s a welcome sight to see so many companies interested in making a difference. Whether it be a revolutionary mouthguard designed to judge the amount of impact absorbed during a big hit, or a force-mitigating helmet like Vicis’ Zero1, it’s clear safety is of utmost importance in the world of sports today. Though it’s obvious this kind of attention to safety should’ve been around decades ago, it’s certainly refreshing to see it gaining momentum today.

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