Three technologies designed to prevent brain injuries of American football players have been awarded funding by the US National Football League.
An impact absorbing helmet developed by the University of Washington, a cushion for artificial turf by Viconic Sporting and a rubberised tether that slows the speed of the head snapping back after a collision by the US Army Research Laboratory will receive up to $1m from the National Football League (NFL), Under Armour and GE.
The technologies were selected in three separate innovation challenges designed to find solutions to prevent brain and head injuries of American football players.
Concussions and the resulting brain damage have become a critical issue for the NFL in recent years due to mounting evidence about players suffering from brain degeneration associated with repeated head trauma.
In April this year, the league agreed to pay settlements to players over concussions. The amount to be paid may reach more than $1bn as a federal appeals court has not decided whether the sum offered by the NFL is sufficient.
The shock-absorbing helmet by the University of Washington could help mitigate the problem in the future. According to Dave Marver, who led the team behind the helmet, existing head protection gear is efficient in preventing skull fracture but not in mitigating concussion risk.
"We have a multi-layer design that does both of those things, reduces concussion risk and protects against skull fracture," he said, adding that rules changes and concussion mitigating protocols have already contributed to a 34 per cent reduction in the number of concussions reported.
In addition to the helmet, installing a soft underlayment under the turf of the football ground would help further reduce impact levels and the subsequent risk of injuries.
"There are about 2,000 new artificial turf surfaces installed in North America annually," said Jason Kroll, from Viconic, which developed the cushioning. "An artificial underlayment surface is only installed about 10 per cent of the time, so there is a tremendous opportunity for this technology."
The rubberised tether against head snapping was originally devised for use in knee and ankle braces for soldiers. It is attached to the chin and anchored to the body under the jersey. It is made of an elastic material that acts like a shock absorber.
“At slow speeds the rubber band stretches and relaxes easily," said Eric D. Wetzel, from the Army Research Laboratory.
"But pulled very quickly, it resists with a lot more force, about 100 times more force..."
The challenge involved practical technologies judged to be close to a commercial phase. Seven finalists for the award won an initial research grant of $500,000.