We’ve seen a number of interesting patent filings from sports apparel manufacturer Nike in recent weeks. We had a set of glasses designed to provide a head-up display for golfers, which was later followed by workout gear that offered an active heating and cooling system, and most recently it was clothing designed to soak up sweat. Now we have yet another patent, this time for a dynamic padding system designed to keep athletes better protected while taking part in high-impact sports.
The patent shares details on a high-tech system of pads used for playing sports like football, baseball, and hockey. Athletes who take part in those activities wear pads to protect their bodies from impact, either from other players or a ball or puck moving at a high rate of speed. The challenge comes in making pads that are flexible enough so as to not impede athletic performance while still maintaining a high level of protection. This has traditionally led to compromises in both areas, with players typically accepting less impact protection in favor of more flexibility.
What Nike proposes in its patent filing is a new dynamic pad that can change its level of rigidity in an instant, allowing it to provide better overall protection. It can then shift back to a more flexible state just as quickly. The system would rely on a set of sensors that could detect and measure the speed and angle of incoming players or objects, then quickly alter the existing state of the pad to more readily absorb the impact. Once the threat is no longer detected, the padding would then switch back to a more flexible state, giving athletes more freedom of movement.
To accomplish this, Nike describes a system in which a special filament is wound around the pad and attached to a spool. The spool then tightens or loosens the filament as instructed by the sensors, making the padding more or less stiff as needed. When the pad is at its stiffest, it will absorb more energy from the impact, and when it is least stiff, the pad would be more flexible, providing a greater range of motion.
In theory, the entire process would take microseconds to complete and would occur without players being aware that it is happening. This type of system could help lessen the injury rate among athletes and could even be extended to other activities such as skiing, skateboarding, and mountain biking. Unfortunately, it could be some time before we actually see existing products using this type of technology, but it is always fun to catch a glimpse of the sports gear we could all be using just a few years down the road.