How this new football helmet is designed to protect the brain

Courtesy of Amy Wales / Artefact

Trying to design a football helmet that doesn’t obstruct a player’s movement? It’s easy. Continue to stick with the general design that’s been around since the 1970s. Or go back to the days when players basically wore boxing gloves on their heads.

Trying to design a football helmet that looks cool? Not too difficult. You can even add dazzling if that’s what you like.

Are you trying to design a football helmet that better protects your head from injury? It shouldn’t be too difficult. Just build a gigantic structure that includes hundreds of pillows that house a player’s head. The player will not be able to move but the head will be safe.

Trying to design a helmet that does all three? Not so easy.

Form, function and safety don’t always go hand in hand. Becoming lighter and less bulky can compromise head protection, a growing concern given concussions and head injuries that occur in the NFL. Padding the head extensively can make you look and play like square sponge bob pants. Focus on fashion? Well let’s just say that nothing you see on a podium would work on an American football field.

But a Seattle-based startup, VICIS, worked with Artefact to design a football helmet that sought to blend the three things. An Artefact case study describes the ZERO1 football helmet as “safer, sexier and more functional”. Who doesn’t want to be sexy, safe and functional?

VICIS CEO Dave Marver co-founded the company in 2013 with University of Washington Chair of Mechanical Engineering Per Reinhall, PhD, Professor of Mechanical Engineering Jonathan Posner, PhD, and Samuel Browd, MD, PhD professor of neurosurgery in a mixture of medicine and engineering. Traditional football helmets usually have a hard outer shell with foam padding on the inside, much like an M&M. In contrast, the ZERO1 helmet has a LODE outer shell which is “deformable” as well as an inner layer of columnar structures designed to absorb the force of impact. This VICIS video describes the technology:

As you can see and hear, the researchers used computer modeling to help design the helmet. Trying to jostle the brain on a computer is better to do it in real life. The new technology has garnered quite a bit of attention from others, including the NFL. Last August, VICIS raised a total of $ 70 million, including $ 15 million recently from private investors, as Derek Hall reported for the Seattle weather.

The VICIS team has the medical and technical expertise, but contacted Artefact to help them further with the design. Founded in 2006, Artefact is a Seattle-based product design company that focuses on human-centered design. In other words, they try to design products that meet not only the functional needs but also the emotional needs of the users. After all, what’s the point in designing a football helmet that can take a hit but isn’t a hit to players?

This included making sure the helmets didn’t look silly, didn’t give players enough confidence, and felt comfortable. They also made the face mask and chin bars easy to remove in case a player got injured but, of course, not too easy to remove.

The new design is off to a good start. the ZERO1 football helmet was on Time’s Top 25 Inventions of 2017 list and won # 1 in the leaderboard NFL and NFL Player Association 2017 and 2018 helmet performance test in the laboratory. Last season, more than 60 NFL players donned the helmets, including Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Doug Baldwin as well as Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. More than 20 college football teams have signed up to use the helmet, such as Alabama, Georgia, Florida State, and Texas A&M.

How will this new design affect the risk of concussion and brain injury? Not clear. The idea is that reducing the direct force on the head will reduce the amount of injury the brain can sustain. However, more scientific studies and longer-term follow-up would be useful to get a better idea of ​​the protection offered. Much remains to be learned about how different collisions can affect the brain and the development of diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). For example, how can a helmet prevent the damage that can occur when the brain bounces around the skull during rapid deceleration?

If you want to try out the football helmet yourself for playing or just wear it to the office or to a date, this isn’t cheap. the The ZERO1 football helmet was previously priced at $ 1,500, according to Barry Wilner writing for the Associated Press, but in January of this year VICIS announced a price cut to $ 950.. Therefore, the main market so far appears to be professional teams and large collegiate teams. On the other hand, wearing it to a date can show you have the moolah. And form, function and safety.

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