If we lived in a world where athletes only received straight-on blows to the head, then regular helmets would offer all the protection needed. In real life, however, helmets usually receive impacts at an angle, with the resulting twisting of the head potentially causing brain injuries to the wearer. Now, scientists from Vancouver's Simon Fraser University have developed something to help keep that from happening – a sticker called the BrainShield.
When a regular helmet hits something such as the ground, its rigid shell catches against the impacting surface and causes the helmet to very rapidly twist around. The rider’s head twists with the helmet, but does so quickly enough that the brain doesn’t quite keep up, moving a few milliseconds after the skull it’s contained in. The result is the shearing of nerves and blood vessels, resulting in disabilities or even death.
Applied to key areas of a regular helmet, the 1-mm-thick BrainShield decal is composed of four layers. When the top layer makes contact with an impacting surface, it slides laterally, relative to the layers below. By redirecting the energy of that initial impact in such a fashion, the device reportedly helps keep the helmet from being tugged to one side, thus reducing the likelihood of brain injuries.
Users can tell when a BrainShield has received a hard impact just by looking at it, at which point they just peel it off and stick on a new one.
The sliding principle is similar to that used in MIPS and SuperSkin helmets, although in those cases the technology is built right into the helmet – it can't be applied by users to third-party helmets, as the BrainShield can. Additionally, the decal is claimed to be more effective than MIPS.
BrainShield is already being used by two Vancouver high school football teams on a trial basis, and is showing promising results. It is hoped that a crowdfunding campaign could lead to commercial production of the decals, sometime next year.
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