Impact Sensors: A Missing Piece of Head Injury Programs

Monday, August 20, 2018
Tozuda Impact Sensor is a tamper-proof impact sensor product designed to attach to any helmet or headgear and alert sideline to impacts

Tozuda Impact Sensor on the back of an Ice Hockey Helmet is a tamper-proof impact sensor product designed to attach to any helmet or headgear and alert sideline to impacts

 

If there has been one area in which I have devoted more of my energy and passion as a youth sports safety expert and Executive Director of MomsTEAM/SmartTeams for the past eighteen years, it is has been in trying to reduce the risk of short- and long-term brain injury to athletes in contact and collision sports.

 

The accumulation of routine head impacts in many sports has been found to create a cascade of neurological damage and long-term degenerative issues, along with balance issues that increase the risk of orthopedic injuries. One of the ways I have long believed contact and collision sports can be made safer is through the use of wearable impact sensors: small, highly sophisticated electronic devices embedded in mouth guards, chin straps, skull caps, ear buds, skin patches, or attached to the interior or exterior of helmets which transmit data via Blue Tooth connection on the number and force of head impacts athletes sustain during games or practices to a dedicated mobile app and analytics platform, or on a monitor such as iPhone, iPad or laptop on the sports sideline.

Eight years ago, I started to hear from companies which were bringing to market impact sensors for use at the youth, high school, college and professional levels; sensors that, while not as sophisticated as the ones used for research — which cost upwards of $1,000 per player — could be used to alert sideline personnel to athletes who sustained hits hard enough to cause concussion so they could be evaluated for concussion, and to identify athletes whose poor technique caused them to sustain an unusually large number of subconcussive impacts, the cumulative effect of which research has increasingly linked with a greater risk the athlete will develop a chronic, degenerative neurological disease such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

 

In 2012, when I was asked by the high school football program in Newcastle, Oklahoma for help in implementing an evidence-based concussion risk management program, I saw a perfect opportunity to beta test two of the new impact sensors, which the manufacturers, ShockBox a Canadian company based in Toronto, and i1Biometrics, based in Norwalk Connecticut and both now owned by Athlete Intelligence of Kirkland, Washington, donated for installation in over 100 of the Newcastle players’ helmets.

 

My experience during the filming of MomsTEAM’s PBS documentary, The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer (PBS), convinced me that they had value as a technological end run around the chronic problem of under-reporting by athletes of concussion symptoms. From talking candidly with the players after a duck-hunting trip (next to playing football, their favorite activity), I learned that they actually wanted to wear the sensors. Why? Because they knew that, if they took a heavy hit, it would register on the iPad the athletic trainer or his assistant was holding on the sideline. Knowing that they would be checked out if the sensor alerted sideline personnel to a blow with the potential to cause a concussion, they felt more comfortable, if they began experiencing concussion symptoms, reporting symptoms to the AT without fear of being labeled a wimp by their teammates or the coach.

 

In believing that impact sensors could play a role in the early identification of concussion, I have had good company in the sports medicine and scientific communities. Numerous studies have shown that one of the biggest hurdles to appropriate clinical management of sports concussion is identifying athletes who should be removed from play for initial screening on the sports sideline. Many sports concussions go undetected because athletes don’t recognize that they have symptoms of concussion, are reluctant and/or refuse to self-report such symptoms, or because of the less-than-perfect observational skills of sideline management in spotting signs of concussion in athletes. Early identification is critical because, in most cases, athletes immediately removed from contact or collision sports after suffering a concussion will fully recover fairly quickly (7 to 10 days, longer for children), while athletes who continue playing after concussion, according to recent studies, are at much greater risk of a longer recovery.

 

One way to address the problem of chronic under-reporting and increase the chances a concussion will be identified early on the sports sideline, say some leading experts, is to rely less on athletes to remove themselves from games or practices by reporting concussion symptoms, or on game officials and sideline observers to observe signs of concussion, but to use impact sensors as essentially another set of eyes to alert sideline personnel to heavy hits that might cause a concussion. “Although a [sensor] system may not be able to accurately predict injury,” notes University of Michigan and Michigan Neurosport neurologist Jeffrey Kutcher, “it may have utility as a screening device by alerting sideline personnel of an impact that has occurred above a predetermined magnitude that triggers either observation or clinical evaluation of an athlete.” A 2017 study in the Journal of Athletic Training agreed, concluding that “impact sensors may provide critical real-time data to monitor players,” and that “viewing an athlete’s head-impact data may provide context for the clinician working on the sidelines.”

 

Another benefit of using impact sensors, says Richard M. Greenwald of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College and Co-Founder and President of Simbex, the maker of the HITS sensor system widely used by concussion and biomechanical researchers, is that they not only “facilitate the early recognition and management of brain injury in helmeted sports but permit early intervention, potentially in advance of an injury, rather than simply as a management tool post injury, by identifying high magnitude impacts which may cause concussions, and athletes sustaining high number and/or high magnitude head impacts who may be more prone to concussions.”

 

Sensors have also shown value as a teaching and behavior-modification tool for athletes in order to reduce the total amount of brain trauma athletes suffered in contact and collision sports such as football from repeated sub-concussive blows. If a player is observed repeatedly sustaining higher magnitude impacts, especially to the crown of his head — which studies suggest are most worrisome from a brain trauma standpoint — coaches can work with the athlete on adjusting his technique. As one youth football coach recently told a newspaper in Washington State, “Concussion prevention starts with teaching. These products will help our coaches know when a kid has a problem. It is a safety measure and a teaching tool.”

 

Using impact sensors as a teaching tool has already been happening in high school football. After Purdue researchers found in a landmark 2010 study that high school football linemen who sustained a high number of high-impact, sub-concussive hits over the course of a season suffered impairment of their visual memory, impairment which persisted beyond the season. In an interview with PBS’s Frontline, Tom Talavage, the lead author of the Purdue study, estimated that least 50 percent of the high impact hits high school football linemen and linebackers were sustaining were due to poor technique. The information led at least one player to change his blocking technique, leading to a drastic reduction in the number of blows sustained to the top front of his head and a moderate reduction in the total number of helmet hits. After the second season, Talavage reported that the player’s “neurocognitive testing never detected any deficits, and from a [brain] imaging perspective we saw substantially less change in [abnormal brain] activity.”

 

Bumpy Road

No less a concussion expert than Dr. Julian Bailes, the longtime Medical Director of Pop Warner who played a prominent role in the battle between the National Football League and Dr. Bennet Omalu over CTE featured in the 2015 movie, Concussion, and Jeanne Marie Laskas’ book by the same name, has predicted that “the era of dumb helmets, in which coaches and trainers have no clue how many impacts that brain inside that helmet has sustained, is quickly coming to an end.”

 

But while more teams in contact and collision sports, at all levels of sports, are using impact sensors (the Arena Football League, for instance, has mandated use of impact sensors in players’ helmets since the 2014 season), widespread acceptance and use have proven elusive, for a number of reasons.

 

Price: As is often the case with new technology-based products, the impact sensors currently on the market are still relatively expensive, ranging in price from around $100 for impact sensors which clip to a headband or helmet and records hits greater than 20g, to $289 for Athlete Intelligence’s highly sophisticated and accurate Vector mouthguard, which compiles data on the direction, frequency, and force of hits. The hope is that, over time, the per unit price will drop enough to make sensors more practical and affordable.

 

In the meantime, manufacturers, in order to build market share and get their products into the hands of more programs, have been providing discounts to programs on large orders. A recent article in the Tri-City Herald, for instance, reported that a Washington State youth football program, the Kennewick Grid Kids Association, was able to purchase 340 Cue helmet sensors from Athlete Intelligence for $72 per sensor.

 

Indeed, an increasing number of football programs, plagued by declining participation rates, believe sensors are worth the expense, regardless of the cost. “We can’t bury our head in the sand anymore,” noted Jeff Boyus, Kennewick’s president in an August 2018 article in the Tri-City Herald. “How can you look a parent in the eye and tell them their kid isn’t worth $80? …There is an expense, but it’s not as expensive as the jerseys they wear on Friday night.”

 

Misconceptions: Another impediment to widespread adoption has been the widely-held myth that impact sensors are somehow intended to diagnose concussions or replace the need for athletic trainers and other trained observers on the sports sideline. It is true that there are, as of yet, no well-designed, prospective, randomized, blinded studies showing that teams which equip players with impact sensors help sideline personnel do a better job of identifying concussed athletes than teams that rely on self-reporting by athletes and the observational skills of sideline personnel and game officials.

 

But it is not at all surprising that impact sensors have not been validated for use in diagnosing concussions via rigorous, peer-reviewed testing, because they were never and are not intended to replace sideline observers, game officials, coaches, and teammates who, if they observe an athlete exhibiting signs of concussion, can trigger a sideline screening using one or more assessment tools.

 

My field testing experience over two seasons with the Newcastle football team in Oklahoma in 2012–2013, and with field testing youth football programs in Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Michigan in 2014–2015 piloting our SmartTeams program, leads me to believe that, as long as impact sensors are strictly used for the limited purpose of providing real-time impact data to qualified sideline personnel, not to diagnose concussions, not as the sole determining factor in making remove-from-play decisions, and not to replace the necessity for observers on the sports sideline trained in recognizing the signs of concussion and in conducting a sideline screening for concussion using one or more sideline assessment tests for concussion (preferably by a certified athletic trainer and/or team physician), and long as data on the number, force, and direction of impacts is only made available for use by coaches and athletic trainers in a position to use such information for the limited purpose of adjusting an athlete’s blocking or tackling technique (and not for indiscriminate use by those, such as parents, who are not in a position to make intelligent use of the data), they represent a valuable addition to a program’s concussion toolbox and as a teaching and behavior-modification tool to minimize repetitive head impacts.

 

While researchers continue to look for the concussion “holy grail” in the form of specific impact thresholds above which concussions are highly likely and/or the number of impacts or the magnitude of impacts per week or per season that substantially increase the risk of long term brain injury, the fact is that impact sensor technology is available right now to do what we can to reduce total brain trauma by using impact data to identify kids who need more coaching so they can learn how to tackle, block and body-check without using their helmets or leading with their heads.

 

Legal concerns. In July 2013, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (“NOCSAE”) — a non-governmental organization which sets performance safety standards with which manufacturers of football helmets and other sports safety equipment voluntarily certify compliance supported by fees paid by manufacturers for the privilege of affixing the all-important NOCSAE sticker to their helmets –issued a statement warning that the modifying helmets by affixing sensors might void the helmet manufacturer’s certification of compliance with NOCSAE standards. The announcement created an uproar, prompting substantial opposition from sensor manufacturers (and, not surprisingly, support from helmet-makers), and led some teams, coaches, and at least one state high school athletic association to bar use of some helmet sensors.

 

A subsequent clarification by NOCSAE left it up to the helmet manufacturers themselves to decide whether impact sensors — at least those affixed to helmets — voided their certifications; gave them the option of engaging in additional certification testing of their helmets with add-on products (which everyone agreed would be cost-prohibitive); and afforded manufacturers of add-on sensors for helmets the right to make their own certification of compliance, as long as the certification testing was done according to NOCSAE standards and the add-on manufacturer assumed potential legal liability for the helmet/add-on combination. (Again, testing that the sensor companies, as start-ups struggling for capital, could obviously not afford)

 

NOCSAE’s statements prompted Riddell, a leading football helmet manufacturer (which markets the Insight, its own sensor-equipped helmet), to state categorically that it would view modifying its helmets in any way with a third-party sensor as voiding its certification of compliance with NOCSAE standards. Riddell went on to recommend against the use of any third-party aftermarket accessories altering the fit, form or function of its helmets or face masks, not just because such modifications voided its NOCSAE certification, but because, in its view, it “render[ed] the helmet or face mask illegal for most organized play.”

 

As far as I am aware, five years later, no helmet company, other than Riddell, has taken steps to correct the impression left by the July 2013 NOCSAE statement that sensors affixed to helmets with NOCSAE stickers void the helmet companies’ certifications of compliance, or, like Riddell, has exercised the right under the NOCSAE clarification to declare their certifications void if a sensor has been affixed to their helmet. Their silence thus continues to create a legal risk to any school or youth football program which allows an add-on sensor on or in a helmet that, in the event of an injury and lawsuit, the helmet manufacturer will take the position that its certification of compliance with the NOCSAE standard was void. The chilling effect of such statements on the willingness of sports teams to purchase helmet sensors, while impossible to quantify, has undoubtedly been substantial, and continues to cause concern among manufacturers of impact sensors designed to attach to helmets.

 

Protecting the status quo. A third reason wearable monitoring devices haven’t, made the impact I thought they would when I first began writing about them six years ago has been the lack of support by groups and organizations which appear to be satisfied with the status quo.

 

On February 16, 2015, my local paper, The Boston Globe, came out with a powerful editorial in which it urged college, high school, and recreational leagues in contact and collision sports to consider mandating use of impact sensors, or, at the very least, experimenting with the technology, to alert the sideline personnel to hits that might cause concussion, and to track data on repetitive head impacts.

 

The Globe editorial viewed as “shortsighted” the reluctance of players and coaches to adopt the use of impact sensor technology out of fear that sensors, if they triggered an alert, might result in a player’s removal from the game for concussion screening (that, after all, is the whole point) or result in the player being labeled a wimp (what NIH’s Institute of Medicine has labeled the “culture of resistance”). The editorial called on professional leagues, like the NFL, to follow suit, suggesting that star players, by using the devices, could help break down barriers to their more widespread use.

 

Unfortunately, on February 19, 2015, just three days after than the Globe went on record as urging the NFL to set an example for colleges, high school, and youth leagues to follow by equipping its players with sensors (as the Arena Football League had already done the previous season and continues to require in 2018), the league did exactly the opposite.

 

As first reported by Sports Business Journal and, later that same day, by The New York Times, the NFL decided to suspend a pilot program using sensors in players’ helmets for the 2015 season because data collected during the 2013 season was not considered reliable enough (for what, they didn’t say), and because the N.F.L. Players Association questioned whether the data would be kept private and not used against a player. As far as I am aware, no testing of sensors has since been undertaken by the NFL.

 

Researchers who have collected impact data for years using the $1,000 per sensor HITS system, including Stefan Duma, who runs the biomedical engineering department at Virginia Tech and helped develop the STAR helmet rating system, were quick to say that the league was being too careful. While not perfect (a 2017 study of commercially available sensors found significant error rates), he argued that sensors provided useful data, not only in football, but in analyzing head hits in sports like soccer and hockey. I agree.

 

Duma speculated that one reason the N.F.L. and the players’ union might have been ambivalent about the use of sensors was because they might show that players were receiving more blows to the head than was commonly thought. He feared that the decision could dampen research efforts by others and didn’t acknowledge “all the good things” that sensors do.

 

I agree with Duma on that point as well. Indeed, efforts to preserve the status quo and to make schools and sports clubs think twice about using impact sensors are themes I explored in a 2015 law review article: Standard-Setting by Non-Governmental Agencies in the Field of Sports Safety Equipment: Promoting the Interests of Consumers or Manufacturers? co-authored with MomsTEAM Senior Editor and practicing attorney, Lindsey Straus, in the University of Maryland’s Journal of Business and Technology Law. Our article was primarily about the role organizations such as NOCSAE play in setting performance standards for add-on safety equipment, such as impact sensors (it was our position then and continues to be our position now that standards for sensors should be set either by governmental agencies, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or by truly independent standard-setting groups, such as ASTM International, and not by groups such as NOCSAE and the Concussion Legacy Institute funded, primarily or in part, by the equipment manufacturers whose products are subject to the very performance standards they set).

 

We also, however, addressed the concerns raised by Dr. Duma: that groups like NOCSAE, the NFL, and its players’ union, appear to have a vested interest in protecting the status quo, which, in the case of impact sensors, has put the brakes on widespread adoption of sensor technology, not because their use is unlikely to make sports like football safer (I, along with many experts, think it will), but for fear that it might open Pandora’s box by making it clear just how hard and how often players are getting hit, and scare off parents from letting kids play contact and collision sports. (Comments from the head of the Washington State youth football program in the August 2018 article in the Tri-City Herald discussed earlier in this article suggest, perhaps counterintuitively, that the use of sensors might actually assuage parents’ concerns about football’s safety). Is the current sensor technology perfect? No, it’s not. But, like Dr. Duma, and others, I believe that, in hitting the pause button on the use of sensors, the NFL essentially threw the baby out with the bathwater, and sent out exactly the wrong message about sensors.

 

The national organization for high school sports, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) did the same. While recognizing that impact sensor technology “continues to advance and improve” and “can now be used to look at impact forces in real-time, while the players are actively participating in a sport,” the NFHS appeared in a 2016 Football Point of Emphasis to its member state athletic associations to go out of its way to pour cold water on the use of impact sensors, not only reinforcing the status quo view that sensors were only “valuable as a research tool,” but warning players, parents, coaches and administrators “to be careful not to rely primarily on unproven technology to diagnose a concussion,” (never their intended use), “or even as a tool to decide if a concussion should or should not be suspected.” (one of their principal uses!).

 

Our experience at MomsTEAM Institute in field testing seven different impact sensor models over five football seasons, at both the high school and youth level, is that equipping players with sensors does not, as one critic (with no field-testing experience) has suggested, turn them into crash-test dummies. With appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that the privacy of the players is protected, and that access to the data the sensors generate is restricted to those who can use that data intelligently (such as an AT or coach), I continue to believe that the best way to refine and improve impact sensor technology, and educate players, coaches, parents, and ATs about their advantages, is, well, to use it. Sadly, the NFL’s decision to stop using impact sensors, combined with the NFHS’s negative stance on sensors, and fear instilled by NOCSAE that sensors attached to helmets might void the helmet manufacturer’s certification, appear to have set back the kind of widespread use many of us in the sports safety community have been advocating.

 

Crowded market

Despite the challenges impact sensor companies continue to face, the number of products on the market has actually grown since I began following their development in the early 2010’s. A March 2017 study in the Journal of Athletic Training lists nineteen impact sensors devices from seventeen different manufacturers, three of which were not yet commercially available. Since then several additional sensor products have been or are about to come to market.

 

Interestingly, both of the impact sensors which MomsTEAM featured in The Smartest Team documentary in 2012–2013– the Vector mouthguard sensor (then called the Hammerhead made by i1 Biometrics) and the Shockbox (then manufactured by Impact Protective) — are not only still being manufactured by their successor company, Athlete Intelligence (“AI”), but are being used by more and more teams. According to Jesse Harper, longtime AI CEO, the Vector is currently being used in helmeted sports such as football, hockey, and lacrosse by over 100 teams and 10,000 athletes from youth through NCAA Division 1, the most in the industry.

 

Not only does the Vector sensor measure the location and magnitude of each hit an athlete absorbs, sending the data to the sidelines via AI’s proprietary ESP™ Chip Technology, but because the data can be time-synched to the millisecond with video (which a 2017 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine recommends be part of a multi-modal, multi-time-based concussion evaluation process), it is particularly useful in evaluating and analyzing problematic impacts in real time.

 

By providing coaches with a “heat map” of each player’s head and their exposure history over different time intervals and in different situations (practice versus games, preseason versus regular season) the Vector also furnishes coaches with actionable insights (what AI calls “Coachable Moments”). Our experience with the Vector, as part of our Smart Teams pilot program in Grand Prairie, Texas in 2014 and 20145, was very favorable. We equipped one hundred 6- to 12-year-old youth football players boys with Vector sensors donated by AI; during practices and games, a dedicated member of our team monitored the sensors, and was able to provide the coaches with data which they used to adjust player technique to minimize impacts.

 

In addition to offering a new and improved version of the Shockbox helmet sensor (a miniature wireless helmet sensor for hockey, football, snow sports and lacrosse and more, designed to immediately alert parents, coaches and athletic trainers to high magnitude hits), AI has recently brought to market a third product, the Cue Sport Sensor, featuring the latest advancements in impact sensing technology and designed for use in both helmeted and non-helmeted sports. As someone who has long advocated a holistic approach to sports safety, what I find particularly attractive about both the Cue and Vector is that they are paired with AI’s Athlete Intelligence Platform to identify trends and improvement and for use as a teaching tool to build better, safer athletes. Future developments of the Athlete Intelligence Platform will embrace integrations with wearable technologies such as FitBit (from tracking sleep and nutrition to strength training) and external video feeds, allowing coaches to see the unbroken picture of each athlete’s status on the field, and their potential moving forward.

 

Another sensor that I like — although it is expensive ($150 per sensor, $200 for alert monitor) and may not work for those players who do not like the fit of a Riddell helmet — is Riddell’s InSite sensor, a thin template of plastic which fits inside its football helmets and connects to a full player management system. Backed by Riddell’s formidable research and marketing muscle as a leading football helmet manufacturer, the InSite, like other leading sensor systems, alerts the sideline to high magnitude impacts sustained by players. The InSite Player Management Software (ISPM) installs on both Windows and Mac computers and allows coaches and trainers to create and edit a team roster, add and manage Alert Monitor and Player Unit assignments, and review impact alert data downloaded from the alert monitors. Alert information can be reviewed and exported as an Excel file for further analysis.

 

Promising newcomers

Joining such established players in the crowded impact sensor field as Athlete Intelligence and Riddell, are some promising newcomers.

 

One is Tozuda, a Philadelphia-based start-up headed by Jessie Garcia, a former rugby player, which has just introduced to the market (via a Kickstarter campaign) what it touts as a simple, affordable, and tamper-proof impact sensor product designed to attach to any helmet or headgear and alert the sideline to impacts over 85 g’s (which studies show are the ones most likely to cause concussion). Armed with an advanced engineering degree and some patented technology, Jessie and her team have built a low-cost sensor which, instead of using expensive electronics, alerts the sideline to a high magnitude impact by releasing a simple, non-toxic mix of liquid and dye which changes in color from clear to red when an impact exceeds the 85g threshold.

 

Some other sensor products that have caught my eye are two mouthguard-based products: the Prevent Impact Monitor (IM) mouthguard and the FITGuard. Manufactured by Edina, Minnesota-based Prevent Biometrics, a Cleveland Clinic spinoff, the Prevent boil and bite mouthguard ($99) and custom-fabricated mouthguard ($299) are the product of seven years of research and development and were introduced to the commercial market in 2017. David Sigel, Chief Marketing Officer, told me in an email that there were a “number of aspects of the Prevent system that make it fundamentally superior to any other head impact monitoring technology that we are aware of,” first and foremost its accuracy. He asserted that the measurement accuracy and precision of other systems, particularly helmet-based systems, has been “very poor,” and argued that a sensor is not “useful at all if it can’t measure accurately and consistently,” saying it would “be like having a scale that tells you that you might weigh 120, or maybe 170, or it could be 200. What good would that be?”

 

According to Sigel, Prevent Biometrics’ mouthguard sensor has been validated to measure within +/- 10% accuracy — much better than 10% actually in most impact locations — in independent testing by leading test labs, not only measuring linear and angular acceleration accurately, but other key impact characteristics as well, including location, direction of the impact and impact count.

 

Another key distinguishing feature of the Prevent sensor system, according to Sigel, is that it is a complete system that makes the technology easy for athletic organizations and teams to implement and operate. “The IM Mouthguard connects via Bluetooth with our Team App, giving sideline personnel real-time visibility into impacts, and above threshold impacts that may require concussion assessment, right on an iPad or iPhone. All of the data then syncs to the cloud and detailed analytics are available in a web portal. Having accurate, detailed data available on an organization, team or player level really allows coaches to see opportunities for individual athletes to play safer, and instruct them accordingly. Finally, we have a charging case that wirelessly charges and sanitizes the mouthguard, and a team case that does that for up to 27 mouthguards at once.”

 

To this point, said Sigel, the Prevent mouthguards have only been sold to researchers, and the company is only at the very beginning of introducing it to teams, “so it’s premature to talk about challenges we’ve encountered.” Nevertheless, he said one challenge the company faced was that while it was providing “incredibly valuable wearable technology, … it requires some behavior change by teams and players. For instance, a lot of players like to cut their mouthguards down, or chew on them constantly. Obviously, chewing on a device with over 100 electrical components embedded in it doesn’t work really well. It’s kind of like when smart phones came out. Your iPhone is amazing, but you can’t drop it, swim with it or abuse it! Further, teams and athletic trainers need to get used to having this data available, and incorporating it into their operations.” While the “Prevent system provides potentially incredibly insightful and transformational information, it’s information that was never before available, at least not with any reliability. They’re going to have to re-think how they do things, as they would with any new source of sophisticated data.”

 

As for the FITGuard, co-founder Bob Merriman said bringing it to market “has been a 5-year labor of love to get things right.” Testing in 2017 with Arizona State University’s athletic department yielded what he characterized as “terrific results (quality data, all core competencies demonstrated, positive feedback from athletes).” Based on the feedback from that beta testing, the company made some improvements to fit and charging efficiency, but the changes, even though they did not directly involve the sensor technology, will require another round of validation testing.

 

Merriman reported that design work was completed and that the first units would be manufactured in August 2018. “We hope to conclude lab testing in September and then conduct another round of field testing with athletes again this fall. If the testing results in good data validity, we plan to have units ready for sale in early 2019,” he said. “As a parent myself, it’s absolutely critical to us that we develop a solution that I’d be comfortable with my own kids wearing,” Merriman stated.

 

Standard equipment

While progress over the last five years has been slow, I continue to believe, as I did when MomsTEAM featured impact sensors in The Smartest Team, that their use will eventually revolutionize the way in which athletes are identified for remove-from-play screening on the sports sideline, and that they will become standard equipment in all contact and collision sports.

 

When that day will come is impossible to say, but with companies such as Athlete Intelligence, Tozuda, Prevent Biometrics, and FitGuard working to refine the technology, improve its accuracy, and lower the cost, I predict that it won’t be too far into the future.

 

About the author:

Brooke de Lench is the Founding Executive Director of MomsTEAM Institute, Director of the Smart Teams Play Safe programs, Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, producer/director of the documentary, The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer (PBS), and author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins). de Lench also serves as a sports risk and injury reduction consultant.

Follow on Twitter: Brooke de Lench

Contact: delench@MomsTeam.com,

Visit the Smart Teams Head Injury Prevention program website and the MomsTeam Youth Sports Concussion Safety Center