Intelligent shock monitor system for sports and motorcycle helmets
Athletes with a history of repetitive head impacts and multiple concussions could experience long-term neurological consequences and premature cognitive decline. Protective headgear is a crucial factor in reducing head trauma, but there are still a significant number of injuries every year with 1.7-3 million concussions recorded annually across sports in the US, with 300,000 in American Football alone. Research has shown that regular small impacts to the skull can lead to long-term brain damage, with a 10-20% prevalence in retired NFL players. There is a need for better protection to monitor and safeguard athletes.
Head impact monitoring can be valuable for providing data to develop safer techniques during training which can help players avoid collisions, as well as support medical professionals determine when to withdraw a player during a competition. Existing solutions that involve accelerometers have rarely been successful during a trial phase as they are inaccurate: low-intensity and detrimental impact may go undetected, while the force of a collision is often overestimated by 20%.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a method for embedding sensors into the lining of helmets to monitor player impact in real-time. The Oxford team used 3D printing to embed optical fibre-based pressure sensors inside thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), the material used for lining and shock-dampening that fills the space between the helmet’s hard outer shell and the head.
A proof-of-concept has successfully demonstrated sensitive shock-monitoring capabilities, thus avoiding the inaccuracies in existing systems. The sensors can embed into new or existing helmets which is unnoticed by players. The system is powered by readily-available medical-grade cell batteries. This requires less maintenance, compared to existing solutions which require battery replacements within a factory.
The technology can be used for training purposes in contact sports to develop strong data, self-protection tactics and habits. The method could be adapted to various types of sports helmets and equipment, such as American Football helmets and rugby scrum caps. The sensors could be embedded into motorcycle helmets and used for telematics in the insurance industry and alerting the emergency services in the case of a collision.
Further applications include other areas requiring sensitive impact monitoring, such as knee joint impact monitoring, aeronautics, structural-part stress monitoring, and civil engineering.
A patent application has been filed for this technology and it is available to licence. OUI is looking for commercial partners interested in bringing the technology to market across various application areas.
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