Engineers Are Tracking Football Helmet Data to Study Head Injuries

Illustration for article titled Engineers Are Tracking Football Helmet Data to Study Head Injuries

The prevalence of head injuries is the dark side of football. Now a University of Michigan engineering lab is installing sensors inside helmets which can help measure impact and spot potential brain injuries that might go undetected.


Dropping a helmet-wearing crash test dummy onto another dummy from a height higher than ceiling height (the frightening equivalent of two linebackers ramming heads), the team is able to create metrics for how hard players are getting hit. This could save lives on the field because there's often no way of exactly knowing how the head moved to cause a concussion or spinal cord injury. It could also help manufacturers design better helmets.

To measure impact, the team is combining two technologies to study how the head reacts to collisions: The helmet-installed Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) by Riddell and X2 Biosystems' newer X Patch, which is worn on the skin right on the skin behind the ear. The two sets of data work together to more accurately track how much the head moves during a hit. The team is studying ice hockey collisions as well, and they're also using the setup to study something which hasn't yet been explored: how and if neck strength can help protect the head from injury.


C.T. Rex Pope

I actually think we should return to less padding and leather helmets. I think this is akin to the bare knuckle boxing problem covered by The Independent (I can't find the link to orignal article): "In 100 years of bare-knuckle fighting in the United States, which terminated around 1897 with a John L Sullivan heavyweight championship fight, there wasn't a single ring fatality."

The problem is, all these heavy pads encourage harder hitting. And while they reduce the amount of common injuries, they increase the likelihood of head injuries, which is far worse. Consider Rugby or Australian Rules football: there is a fare amount of contact, less pads, and I'd bet less head injuries. Anyway, I think it is something that should be studied further.