New Riddell SpeedFlex football helmet pits technology against concussions

The problem of brain damage in football has become one of the many threats to the future of college sport, as well as to all other levels. The NCAA and several conferences face pending lawsuits over concussion issues. While governing bodies claim to prioritize player safety, clothing companies (and players themselves) are among those trying to find tangible solutions.

Several college football programs will use the new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet and InSite impact response system in 2014. The helmet is designed to disperse energy, reducing the risk of trauma, while the InSite is intended to alert coaches. when a player suffers a severe blow to the head, or multiple strokes that combine to present a risk.

The Arkansas Razorbacks were the first to announce the deployment of new technologies, and several other schools are now testing them. Head coach Bret Bielema tweeted:


SpeedFlex builds on the technology used in earlier helmet models. Some of its features:

  • Parts of the helmet flex to reduce the transfer of impact force to the athlete’s head. Flex is integrated into the shell, face shield and helmet attachment system.
  • A new ratchet chin strap attachment system has been developed based on player feedback and is meant to be a new way to ensure a proper fit in every game.
  • A redesigned inner liner that conforms to the shape of a player’s head and conforms to the contours of the helmet shell (crown, back / side, occipital, lock, face frame) for improved comfort and fit.

In a study by Stefan Duma and others, department head at the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, published on the Journal of Neurosurgery website last January, extensive research showed that the design helmet plays a role in player safety:

This exemplary comparison illustrates that differences in the ability to reduce the risk of concussion exist between models of helmets in college football. The design of helmets should be optimized to reduce head acceleration on the continuum of impacts experienced by football players. The helmet design may never prevent all concussions from happening in football, but evidence shows that it can reduce the incidence of this injury.

So, do these helmets work? It is yet to be determined.

In the latest Virginia Tech helmet reviews, released in May 2013, Riddell had two helmets – the 360 ​​and the Revolution Speed ​​- rated five stars, two helmets – the Revolution and the Revolution IQ – rated four stars, and one helmet. – – the VSR4 – classified one star. The project recommends that players only wear helmets rated four or five stars.

A rating for the SpeedFlex is not yet available, according to Duma, who spoke via email to SB Nation.

And the software

InSite software measures HITsp, a head impact measure encompassing how violently a player’s head moves after contact, how long the impact is and where it is. The technology is based on the HIT System and the Sideline Response System.

When a player is hit, a five-point sensor (called a player unit) located in the helmet liner measures the impact. If the impact (or series of impacts) is outside an acceptable range, the sensor emits a wireless alert, which is received on a monitor by a coach or staff member on the sidelines. This data can also be consulted later by computer.

An explanatory video shows how InSite is designed to put “a different perspective on the player”.

Duma said his team looked at InSite, but because it doesn’t give the user specific head acceleration data, it’s not suitable for research purposes. InSite is intended for general public use.

“We are focusing on the systems that provide the linear and rotational acceleration traces,” he said. “For this purpose, InSight is not designed for this, whereas the HIT system is.”

Like InSite, the HIT system is a network of sensors inside helmets, which alerts line staff to the number of hits – and potentially serious hits – a player takes. A study by Duma and others, published by the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine in January 2005, showed the benefit of detecting traces of acceleration, in addition to a number of strokes and the severity of the l ‘impact.

Virginia Tech has been using the HIT system for 11 years, and Brown, Dartmouth, North Carolina, and Oklahoma have used it as well. But it’s not more prevalent due to the costs, which range between $ 50,000 and $ 60,000, according to a January report by Jon Solomon at InSite could be significantly cheaper; it costs $ 150 per player plus a $ 200 alert monitor, which would work out to just under $ 13,000 for a roster of 85 players.

Duma told Solomon that another factor might play into his limited use:

“I think some people might not want to know what the data is saying,” Duma said. “I think it might raise concerns if they don’t look at it objectively. They just might not want to know. I’m sympathetic to that. We’re very fortunate to have a very progressive head coach in Virginia. Tech to Frank Projector. “

The InSite portable device, intended to alert personnel to a potential danger.

Will the InSite system have a real impact on the number of head injuries in football? It is probably a question of whether or not the coaches will make good use of the information obtained.

“It’s a tough question,” Duma said. “This will provide data to the team regarding the number of times and how hard the players have been hit. How the data is used is the most important factor in reducing the risk of injury.”

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