Football players at Dalhousie University get ‘smart helmets’ that detect impacts

The helmet is equipped with sensors that record individual hits and multiple collisions

Football players at Dalhousie University in Halifax are among the first in Canada to start using so-called smart helmets that transmit electronic alerts whenever a player’s head receives an impact that could lead to a concussion.

Each Riddell SpeedFlex helmet — valued at more than $500 each — is equipped with sensors that record individual hits and multiple collisions, data used to compile player-specific profiles.

“What the sensors in the helmets do is give us an impact rating,” says head coach Mark Haggett. “It’s almost like a smoke alarm … It’s going to alert the sidelines and we’ll be able to pull that athlete off the field and assess what that impact was.”

If the intensity of a big hit or a series of collisions rises above a certain threshold, the signal transmitted to the sidelines is picked up by a wireless monitor that displays an alert.

READ MORE: Retired NHL players drafted by cannabis company project

The data can be compiled and studied online through a program known as the InSite Training Tool, which could help coaches prevent injuries during games and practices.

The Dalhousie Tigers are already halfway to their goal of raising $40,000 for the new gear.

Haggett says the high-tech helmets represent another tool used by coaches and trainers to keep track of each athlete’s health. He stressed that the novel technology will not replace strict protocols used on the sidelines to assess potential head injuries.

However, Haggett says it’s often difficult to see what is happening on the field when the offensive and defensive lines lock horns.

“It’s very hard, unless you had a drone going 24/7,” says Haggett, the Tigers’ coach for the past four years. “The sensors will take readings of the things we can’t see.”

The thresholds that trigger the alerts are based on a decade’s worth of compiling and analyzing data from more than one million hits and collisions on football fields across the United States, Riddell says on its website.

Judy Gargaro, a former researcher who specialized in brain injuries, says she would want to learn more about how the thresholds were determined, given that similar impacts can result in very different outcomes.

“There’s so much we don’t understand around concussions,” says Gargaro, director of the Acquired Brain Injury Program at the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation.

“What happens if they don’t have the threshold quite right, and you make a decision to leave somebody in and that turns out to be a bad decision because you’ve relied on the technology.”

Similarly, if the threshold is set too low, that could result in an overreaction, needlessly spreading fear through the team, she says.

Still, Gargaro says she recognized that if the smart helmets are mainly used to complement best practices on the sidelines, then the sensors could prove to be useful tools.

“I would just hate for people to think that this has solved all of our problems,” she said in an interview. “But if it’s framed as another tool in the toolbox to further understand (impacts), then sure.”

Haggett says that’s exactly how the helmets will be used.

“There’s a lot of eyes on the field, but having the sensors gives us that extra level of safety for our athletes,” he said.

In recent years, reducing concussions has become a priority in football and other sports.

Earlier this year, former hockey great Eric Lindros travelled to Ottawa to urge the federal government to develop a national protocol for preventing and treating sports-related concussions.

Among other things, Lindros suggested youngsters should be required to take at least a few months off each year from rough-and-tumble sports to give their shaken brains a chance to heal.

Lindros, whose NHL career was cut short after he suffered several concussions, warned MPs they’d be wasting their time trying to persuade professional leagues to improve their protocols.

The MPs also heard from former college football player Chris Nowinski, who said athletes used to be shamed into continuing to play after suffering a concussion. But the founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation said there’s been progress in persuading athletes that they “don’t need to be a hero.”

In January, the NFL said the number of concussions among its pro football players had dropped 29 per cent in 2018 from the previous season. That was the lowest total since the 2014 season.

The league began releasing concussion data in 2012 as it responded to multiple high-profile cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy among former athletes suffering from the long-term effects of concussions.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

VIDEO: Agassiz Fall Fair celebrates 115 years of fair fun

From 4H shows to pie eating contests, the annual fair brought its best to the community this year

Agassiz Fall Fair kicks off Saturday events with parade, Corn King

Martin Dinn is this year’s Corn King for the community

Michael Nenn running with NDP in Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon

The Mission resident will be seeking a seat in parliament in the federal election this October

UPDATE: Missing man has been located

Friends were concerned for well-being of 44-year-old Jean Pierre Baril

VIDEO: Harrison’s Bands on the Beach a long weekend hit

The annual two-day outdoor concert took place at the waterfront over the long weekend

National weather forecasters predict average fall, cold winter

The Weather Network says precipitation will about average in most parts of Canada

Two dead, two in critical condition in highway crash near Campbell River

Highway 19 reopened Sunday night after it was closed in both directions

VIDEO: Vancouver Island mayor details emergency response after fatal bus crash

Sharie Minions says she is ‘appalled’ by condition of road where bus crashed

Federal party leaders address gun violence after weekend shooting near Toronto

One teen was killed and five people injured in the shooting

Conservatives promise tax cut that they say will address Liberal increases

Scheer says the cut would apply to the lowest income bracket

B.C. VIEWS: Cutting wood waste produces some bleeding

Value-added industry slowly grows as big sawmills close

Pedestrian struck and killed by vehicle in Surrey

Investigators were asking anyone who witnessed the incident to come forward

Most Read