Sports

Teen's woodpecker-inspired system aims to reduce football concussions

Teen's woodpecker-inspired sys...
The novel helmet and shoulder pads system weighs only five pounds
The novel helmet and shoulder pads system weighs only five pounds
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Rear view of the neck stabilization system
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Rear view of the neck stabilization system
The novel helmet and shoulder pads system weighs only five pounds
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The novel helmet and shoulder pads system weighs only five pounds
Stabilizers hold the helmet in place following impact
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Stabilizers hold the helmet in place following impact

In recent years, a growing mountain of evidence has linked the brutal action of American football and frequent concussions suffered by players to long-term brain damage. When one Texas high school player suffered a concussion, he was inspired to develop a more protective helmet and shoulder pads, inspired by nature.

Alberto Garcia began working on a solution to the problem of brain trauma in America's favorite sport as a science fair project while a high school sophomore. He was inspired by the fact that animals like rams and woodpeckers, which are constantly impacting things with their heads, have natural stabilizers around their necks to prevent the whiplash motion after impact that contributes to brain damage in humans.

Garcia created a helmet and shoulder pads system with an integrated Arduino microcontroller connected to sensors in the helmet that stabilizes the head upon impact. When the sensors detect an impact above a certain threshold, the stabilizers lock the helmet in place to keep the athlete's head and brain from being jarred back and forth.

"If you reduce the whiplash motion of the neck, then you can reduce the odds of receiving a spinal cord or neck injury because all that energy is dispersed into the stabilizers," Garcia said.

Rear view of the neck stabilization system
Rear view of the neck stabilization system

The system takes a much more pro-active approach than other supplemental equipment, like the neck band we reported on that seeks to passively reduce the risk of concussion by increasing blood flow to the skull so the brain has less room to slosh around after impact.

New helmet designs are also more flexible to absorb more impact, but this is the first system we've seen that acts more like a vehicle seat belt for the entire skull.

The sensors in Garcia's system also transmit data about the force of impacts to the sidelines, providing data that could help in the diagnosis of concussions.

One key obstacle to the success of such a system is ensuring that it isn't so heavy and bulky that it could interfere with a player's mobility and gameplay. Garcia says his system only weighs five pounds (2.3 kg) and he's tested and modified it numerous times.

The project was a factor in Garcia's admittance to Texas Tech, where he's still developing the system and researching the market for it. He says he's had interest from the Air Force and Navy, who thought it might have potential for use by fighter pilots.

Garcia has a provisional patent on his invention and continues to look into possible uses in contact sports, the automotive industry and the military. More information is available in the video below.

Source: Texas Tech University

Berto Garcia

6 comments
VincentWolf
Why not just play robots against each other. No one gets hurts then.
dionkraft
I can see this guy is really thinking and will create new things to be.
mjstilw
As a former player and coach I know a fundamental difference in football that has lead to an increase in concussions is the lack of proper technique. 'Bulling' the neck and keeping your face up when you make contact biomechanically lock your neck and shoulders into the best possible position; this replicates the action of the above product. I feel better coaching and technique instruction are germane to the front line of protection of the athlete. In it's current iteration, regardless of the extra weight placed high on the athlete, the protruding control rods present a hazard as well. Merely my $0.02!
attoman
Garcia has made a real inventive contribution which is see it's adoption for use will need substantial improvement. He should receive praise and financial support from the sports his design can help like football, car racing, bobsledding etc. Minor point though there are no "provisional patents" only provisional applications for patents. Go Berto!
VincentPurdie
Actually the only thing that will reduce concussions is some type of bio-gel like foam pumped into the skull which prevents the brain from banging against the walls if the cranium while at the same time not interfering with normal brain function and naturally degrades at after the season. Nice try though.
SpencerKunikiWass
The concept seems feasible but the design seems improbable especially the hydraulic fixtures used to respond to energy. The weight could be lessened by half to make it less cumbersome. My real question is there still full neck movement for a wide-receiver/QB to crank his head and catch/throw a pass? Actually any position needing full range of your head to move freely. This system needs to be more integrated in the suit so itself won't get potentially damaged in play. Decent concept but it needs more refinement.