Science du Jour: The Future of Football…


The Future of Football: where heads are safe and every inch counts!

September 10, 2010

No, it isn’t that wretched, irritating, infernal Fox robot…

Yesterday marked the opening of the 2010 NFL season and whether you’re a Vikings fan or a Saint, no doubt you were just happy to see them play ball again. Or maybe you’re not a football fan at all, in which case you’re wondering what on Earth could really be so futuristic about a game oft described as a bunch of neanderthals piling up on each other while clinging desperately to a piece of pig? And while many aspects of American football have indeed remain unchanged and are as old as, well, Favre himself, there are some new tricks up those heavily padded sleeves…

First on our minds is safety.

Head trauma and head injuries are some of the most under diagnosed and mis-understood afflictions in sports and after NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, went before Congress in 2009 to address (or avoid) connections between football-related concussions and later brain diseases, safety has returned to the spotlight.

One approach is the use of untraditional non-foam padding in headgear, such as the X1 helmet from Xenith, which uses adaptive air cell shock absorbers. Air rushes in and out of these cells that adapt to impacts; a harder hit generates more air pressure, and therefore more stiffening to secure a player’s head.


Image credit: Xenith

Another approach is to understand the impacts that lead to the injuries themselves. To that end, Riddell (the official helmet of the NFL) has teamed up with Simbex to place sensors in helmets that wirelessly transmit data about the location, duration and intensity of impact to medics’ computers on the sidelines. Development of the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) and the Sideline Response System (SRS) has been supported by the National Institute of Health (NIH) since 2000 and Symbex was awarded a $3.6 million Bioengineering Research Partnership from NIH in 2007. The “goal of the NIH is to improve the understanding of mild traumatic brain injury for the purpose of developing new techniques for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.”


Images compiled by ScienceGeist, credits: Riddell

With Riddell on board since 2004, along with the collaboration of numerous college football teams, “more than 350,000 head impacts have been collected and analyzed from more than 500 college and high school athletes”!

But let’s face it, what’s REALLY first on our minds is… Did he get the down? Is it out of bounds? Did the ball reach the end zone?

Sensor technology isn’t just for the helmets, it’s for the balls, too! Most recently developed for soccer (the other football) by Cairos Technologies, a research company out of Carnegie Mellon University called YinzCam has made the necessary advancements for applications to American football. Contrasted with soccer, only a portion of the oblong football needs to cross the plane or be out of bounds. Further, first-down lines can occur anywhere across the field. So instead of wiring the whole field, YinzCam’s approach places base stations along the sidelines that pick up a signal transmitted by the sensor. A gyroscope in the ball’s center also transmits precise knowledge of the orientation in 3-D space in real-time.

So whether it’s designing safer helmets, monitoring head injuries or ensuring that Ed Hochuli makes the right call, science and technology are here to help!

~gk

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2 Responses to Science du Jour: The Future of Football…

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