Helmet Safety Minimizing the Risk
Ambience: Crowd Cheering at Football Game
Duma: We’re not going to stop playing team sports. The risk of injury is always there, what we focus on is how we minimize that risk.
How to test and design for safer football helmets? I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Duma: In 2003, we were the first university in the country to instrument the football players. We put a series of accelerometers in their helmets. It transmits real time to the sideline, and we can calculate that and estimate it for every single player.
Stefan Duma is the director for the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech.
Duma: An accelerometer measures motion. When we think about head injury, and exposure, we are interested in acceleration. Those sensors measure that, transmit to the sideline, and then we have that data record for the entire team. Acceleration is the key of injury. We talk about velocity, or speed kills, that is not technically true. You go 500 miles an hour in a plane, you are fine. It is really how fast you stop, or how fast you start, that’s acceleration, and that’s what pulls the tissues apart, and that’s what causes injury. We have the data on the field from the accelerometer sensors. We come into the lab, and we recreate that impact. We use dummies, auto-safety dummies, test dummies, and we develop systems that repeat what is seen on the field.
Dr. Duma and his team have devised a star system for rating helmets which has been adopted by the industry.
Duma: We work very closely with manufacturers. They are in our lab every week, testing their different products. We advise them on how to make it better, and that’s part of our research and outreach mission. Companies are here all the time, and that’s how you are seeing the new five star helmets come out.
Our overall goal is to make sports as safe as possible. Our view is, if you have the best coaches, the best practice, and the best helmet, that’s how you reduce risk.
To check out highly rated helmets, visit vt.edu/helmet. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.