Head protection is a vital part of the equipment in sports ranging from cycling to rugby and winter sports like skiing and snowboarding.
In the United States, it´s also essential for American football players and this week the NFL, in association with Under Armour and General Electric, awarded seven grants to develop ideas designed to increase brain safety for athletes, members of the armed forces and society at large.
Seven groups of researchers from the public and private sectors will each receive $500,000 brain research grants as part of Head Health Challenge II. The winners are also eligible to receive up to $8.5 million to accelerate brain injury research, diagnosis and protection.
The winning groups were selected from almost 500 proposals that were submitted between September 2013 and February 2014.
Their ideas include a portable device that can gather and measure precise eye movements, which could assist in identifying mild traumatic brain injury in real time and lead to more accurate concussion diagnosis.
Another portable device assesses symptoms including cognitive function, balance and eye movements to help screen and assess concussions on the sidelines of sporting events.
One team has developed a new energy-absorbing micro-lattice material that could be used as a new under-helmet liner, absorbing significantly more energy than current designs and better protecting the brain.
And a new helmet has been developed which incorporates a novel impact-absorbing structure and materials that would better protect against head injuries.
Another of the winning ideas proposes rate-dependent tethers that allow voluntary head movement during sports action while minimising sudden accelerations caused by high-speed collisions, often associated with concussions.
The other projects include an under-layer for synthetic turf systems that would make fields safer, and a study to evaluate the effectiveness of a helmet-less tackling training system for high school American football players, to reduce injury risk.
“Each of these seven winners will help advance the science towards our shared goal of making sports safer,” commented NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The benefits of the new developments could extend well beyond the NFL, he said: “New materials, equipment designs and technology breakthroughs will better protect athletes, no matter what sport they play.”