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Design News, October 2012

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ELECTRONICS & TEST D E S IGN AP P L IC A T IO NS C Helmet Airbags Target Concussion Issues A Colorado startup takes the concept of the smart football BY CHARLES J. MURRAY, SENIOR TECHNICAL EDITOR, ELECTRONICS & TEST tiny airbags, a lithium battery, and a printed circuit board with a microprocessor, memory, and analog-to-digital converters. On the field, the helmet will use the strain gages to measure the impact of a hit. Then it will send the data to the microprocessor, compare it to software models in memory, and pressurize the airbags with CO2 ), scores of "When the player gets hit, the helmet will compare the data to numbers in a look-up table," Fodemski said. "It will say, 'The player has been hit in quadrant XYZ of his brain, and the brain will move 11 times.' Then it will fire off the airbags in sequence to respond to the movement of the brain." The technology faces multiple hurdles — cost, complexity, and practicality, to name just a few. Still, it when necessary. Concussion Mitigation Technologies LLC is propos- ing to equip future helmets with enough electronic intelligence to enable them to measure a hit, compare it to pre-determined criteria, and intelligently pressur- ize as many as 75 dime-sized airbags. Troy Fodemski, founder of the fledgling company, believes the pat- ented technology will help professional and amateur sports deal with growing concerns about head injuries. "The human brain wasn't made to withstand 80 Gs in 15 milliseconds," Fodemski, an electrical engineer, said. "If we want to compete in contact sports with a human brain, then we're going to have to use sophisticated data collection, mod- eling, and response techniques." The company's football hel- met will incorporate multiple strain gages, a small cartridge of carbon dioxide (CO2 Airbags inside the helmet are pressurized sequentially, enabling the helmet to pro- vide cushioning as the brain moves back and forth within the skull. "In some cases, the axons can regenerate or repair. In some cases, they can't. But eventually, you exhaust the brain's capacity to repair the neuro-pathways." Fodemski's idea builds on earlier work done at Vir- ginia Tech and at other universities, where engineers fitted helmets with accelerometers and associated electronics to monitor impact on players. The smart helmets showed that some particularly hard hits resulted in accelerations of 100 Gs or more to the head. "It's time to start thinking bigger about this issue," Fodemski said. "We're talking about ... an organ that can't be replaced." T4 TREND WATCH: ELECTRONICS / A SUPPLEMENT TO DESIGN NEWS OCTOBER 2012 [www.designnews.com] comes at a time when professional and amateur sports are facing a growing body of knowledge suggesting that head injuries and concussions have long-term effects on the brain that haven't been fully understood up until now. As a result, NFL head-trauma lawsuits now number in the hundreds, and deaths of former stars, such as Junior Seau, are being viewed in the context of severe repeated concussions. The same has happened in the NHL, where deaths of several notable former players in 2011 further heightened concerns. Fodemski's solution would mitigate damage to the brain by firing the airbags when the brain is about to hit the inside of the skull. The company says that its airbags would provide inward force, serving to nudge the brain back to neutral sooner, rather than having to wait for eight or 10 more collisions while the brain moves back and forth. "All lead- ing theories say that the axons — the wires between the neurons — are tearing," Fodemski said. helmet a step further by enabling it to pop open dozens of tiny airbags and cushion the blow of a hard hit to the head. Source: Concussion Mitigation Technologies LLC

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