January 26, 2011

RIDDELL TO THE RESCUE (via Jim Yates):

The Search for a Safer Helmet: Novel helmets designed to protect players from concussions are coming to market, but experts still need more data to fully understand the injury. (Brittany Sauser, 1/26/11, Technology Review)

Riddell, the official equipment manufacturer of the NFL, has released a new type of helmet designed to help reduce concussions. The Riddell 360 reduces the force of impact to the front of a player's head, where 70 percent of hits occur, says Thad Ide, Riddell's senior vice president of research and development.

Riddell has gathered statistics on head injuries using its own HIT technology, a system that employs sensor-equipped helmets to measure the location, magnitude, and direction of hits experienced during a game or practice. To date, the system has gathered data on over 1.5 million head impacts. The NFL recently announced that it will use the HIT technology to measure head impacts during the 2011 season. The league is working to advance the system and build new sensors that can be placed not just around the top of the helmet, but also behind a player's ear and in a mouthpiece for more accurate readings.

Riddell redesigned key aspects of the helmet to better protect its front section. Faceguards are normally made of carbon steel and attached to the upper front of the helmet; so when a player gets hit in the face, energy is transferred to the front of the head. In contrast, the facemask on the Riddell 360 is made of a hybrid of carbon steel and a lightweight, flexible material. It's attached to the side of the helmet with hinge clips, which means the faceguard flexes on impact, absorbing more of the energy before returning to its original shape.

Riddell researchers also created a "face frame structure," a continuous padding arrangement made from materials that help reduce the amount of force transmitted to the player's head from a hit to the front of the helmet. The padding inside the helmet has a hexagonal design that forms well to the player's head, says Ide. And the helmet has an inflatable liner in the side and back for a custom fit. This prevents a player's head from moving around inside the helmet, and keeps the helmet from popping off.

On January 10, the Riddell 360 was worn for the first time during a real game, when University of Oregon football star LaMichael James wore the helmet during the college national championship game against Auburn University. Ide says the helmet, priced at over $400, will ship to all Division 1 college teams this spring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 26, 2011 3:34 PM
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