Army scores NFL funding for brain injury mitigation tech

Army scores NFL funding for brain injury mitigation tech

Against a backdrop of weekly concussive injuries to football players, a group of researchers from the Army Research Lab have received funding for final-phase research in the Head Health Challenge II, sponsored by the NFL, Under Armour and GE.

Originally announced in September of 2013, Head Health Challenge II seeks novel technologies, designs or materials that could result in “behavior modifications, innovative protective materials and devices and validated return-to-play protocols” by providing solutions to:

  • Quantify head impact in real time.
  • Detect, track or monitor biologic or physiological indicators of traumatic brain injury.
  • Protect the brain from traumatic injury.
  • Mitigate or prevent short or long-term consequences of brain trauma.
  • Assist in training to prevent traumatic brain injury.

ARL’s solution uses a rate-activated strapping material that prevents violent head motions while permitting voluntary head motion. The material stretches with low, elastic force at slow to moderate speeds, though it resists with higher force when pulled quickly, according to an ARL article.

The design is aimed at preventing a common cause for head injuries – suffered by both paratroopers and football players in the NFL – in which the back of the head forcefully hits the ground.

“There’s many sort of safety and protection designs that you can dream up where you wish for the material to be sort of out of the way when you’re doing normal motion, normal activities, but you want it to become active when there’s sudden dynamic event,” Dr. Eric Wetzel, the project’s lead, said in a video.  “That’s really important not just for the athletic problem, but for the military problem if eventually we want to control head motion for soldiers.  They absolutely need to be free to look around and to move to conduct their missions.” 

“The reality of traumatic brain injury on the battlefield and the toll it takes on soldiers and veterans is well documented,” Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton, commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command said. “We have to protect our soldiers against unknown dangers, which means we can never stop searching for a better way or collaborating others who share an interest in this problem.”

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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