Open Innovation Quest to Protect NFL Players from Concussion
Impact absorbing products attached to helmets to protect footballers and other sportspeople from concussion.
National Football League and others, United States
For the National Football League (NFL) in the United States and its players concussion is a major issue that has been dominating the headlines for years. In 2017 alone, a record 291 concussions were reported. There are also many reports of retired NFL players who have suffered concussions and developed cognitive issues including dementia, depression and Alzheimer's disease.
Open Innovation Challenges
In an attempt to make the playing environment safer for players the NFL and Football Research Inc have partnered with Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) to host the HeadHealthTECH Challenges. This is a series of annual open innovation challenges to deepen understanding of head injuries and to provide innovative solutions for greater head protection.
Three HeadHealthTECH Challenges are held every year as part of NHL's Play Smart. Play Safe initiative.
For the first series of challenges innovators, entrepreneurs and manufacturers were invited to send in proposals that focused on helmet technologies. These were examined by a panel of judges selected by Duke CTSI who then awarded grants to the winners to further develop their technologies.
Impact Reduction Innovations
The winners of the first challenge were Erin and Lee Hanson for their Guardian Cap technology. This is a soft shell helmet cover engineered for impact reduction. It is already used by around 80,000 football and lacrosse players in the United States. At the time of the challenge, the pad was primarily used during practice sessions. With the grant funding, the Hansons were looking to put their technology through the latest on-field testing methods that include impacts at different velocities.
“We’ve done a lot of biomechanical testing,” said Erin Hanson. “But with this challenge, they’re really going to help support us in knowing what scientific hurdles need to be crossed and what questions need to be answered so we can further validate the efficacy.”
The other winners of this first challenge were Vyatek Sports. This Arizona-based materials science company is also working on impact and energy absorbing materials that can be fitted onto the outside of helmets. The company's ZORBZ technology features so-called Zorbz which are lightweight, highly efficient energy-absorbing modules that are added to a helmet. They can be retro-fitted to existing helmets and are also replaceable. So after a significant impact, new ones can be fitted.
With the prize money, Vyatek Sports expressed their intention of developing position-specific helmets and equipment tailored for the different types of impacts.
Benefits for All Participants
Every participant to the HeadHealthTECH open innovation challenges received feedback and mentorship from top biomechanical and biomedical engineers. These collaborations helped winners and applicants to refine their innovations for when they apply for future grants.
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