Football helmet sensors could help keep players safe

Tiny sensors that measure brain activity could someday help football players monitor their injuries.

Football season is only a few weeks away and as excited as many of us are to watch that first kick, for high school, college, and professional football players alike, a new season also means a whole new crop of injuries.

Teams of the future, however, may have a new way to protect themselves from the serious brain injuries that so many players suffer from today.

While its development is still in the early stages, a new form of headgear filled with tiny sensors could someday give athletes insight into the extent of their brain injuries only seconds after they step off the field. By detecting changes in the brain activity of athletes as they occur, these small sensors called magnetometers would alert players and coaches of head injuries that could have dire effects later on in life.

Developed by Svenja Knappe of the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, the sensors can measure changes in the brain’s magnetic field. What differentiates them from magnetometers of the past is that they are compact, portable, and perhaps most importantly, inexpensive—allowing them to be used by both bigshot NFL players and small-town high school teams with limited budgets.

The New York Times reports:

“We are trying to make them small and inexpensive,” Dr. Knappe said of the devices, each roughly the size of a sugar cube. The sensors are designed to be mass-produced in the future, so that several hundred of them might one day line the inside of the special headgear that detects brain changes. She and her colleagues are also trying to improve the sensors’ performance.

Because of the sensors’ small size, they could also potentially fit into a range of helmet sizes, making them useful for both children and adults.

[via New York Times]

Images: NIST, John McStravick/Flickr

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