Sports technology companies are scrambling to create cutting-edge helmets that protect football players from the damaging effects of concussions. Preventing a concussion is important, but equally critical is the quick detection of the injury after it happens so further damage to the brain is prevented.
California-based SyncThink hopes to make concussion easier to detect with its Eye-Sync, a portable virtual reality device that can be used on the sidelines to detect the symptoms of a concussion in less than a minute. The device holds such promise as a screening tool that Iowa State University just announced it was adopting the technology for its sports teams.
Trainers on the sidelines are among the first to evaluate an athlete after an injury, and it’s not an easy job. The evaluation is highly subjective, with the trainer looking at subtle clues like the range of eye dilation, the ability to recall items, and other similar cognitive functions. These changes often are difficult to assess, especially on the sidelines where the noise and excitement of the sporting event are a distraction. Eye-Sync makes a trainer’s job easier by detecting the symptoms of a concussion quickly and easily.
The Eye-Sync device uses a virtual reality headset with eye-tracking technology that measures both ocular-motor impairments and vestibular deficiencies that indicate a concussion. The VR headset monitors a person’s eye movements and measures their ability to track a dot moving in a circle at a constant speed. An ordinary person can easily follow the dot with their eyes, producing an almost perfectly round trace. A head injury interrupts a person’s ability to follow the circle with their eyes creating a scatter plot instead of a neat circle. The test takes less than a minute to complete and can be performed on the sidelines immediately after an injury occurs.
Not only does the Eye-Sync device provide a quick and easy screening for a concussion on a playing field, but it also can be used to monitor the recovery time from a concussion after the game. Because it is noninvasive and safe to administer, clinicians can repeat the test as often as needed and see improvements in the eye trace over time. The ability to monitor a patient’s progress makes it possible for clinicians to throw out the “one-treatment-fits-all” solution. It allows them to customize their treatment based on the patient’s recovery time, which can be short or long depending on the individual athlete and the injury he or she sustained.
Eye-Sync initially was developed by researchers at Stanford, and the California university already is using the Eye-Sync technology with all its teams and its 900 student-athletes. Similar to Stanford, Iowa State University will be using Eye-Sync for its football and wrestling programs. Eventually, the eye-tracking technology will be adopted by other sports programs at the university. Once integrated, Eye-Sync will be used for baseline concussion testing following an injury and will be added to the University’s concussion management protocol.