Wearable Technology Could Help to Prevent Head Trauma

14-04-2021 |   |  By Robin Mitchell

An armature rugby player from the UK has developed a wearable head sensor for sensing head trauma and warning users when they may be at risk. What problems does high-impact sport present, what will the developed device help with, and how could it change sporting events in the future?

What challenges do high-impact sports face?

For many hundreds of millions worldwide, there is nothing more entertaining than high-impact sports ranging from rugby to American football. It is generally agreed that making such sports too safe can make said sport less entertaining, but there is a major difference between minor injuries and fatal injuries. 

High-impact sports involved impacts to the human body of great force, and the cause of death in such situations is generally head-related. But even those who have participated in such sports without showing immediate signs of injury can suffer from long-term head-related conditions such as dementia and aneurysms. 

To make matters more complicated, these conditions are likely to be related to the accumulation of impacts (whose effect is proportionally related to the strength of the impact), but determining the impact's strength is almost impossible. If these impacts could be accurately determined, then active players could be removed from the playfield when a threshold is reached, thus reducing the risk of later-life conditions.

Rugby Player Develops Head-Impact Detectors

An amateur rugby player from the UK, Euan Bowen, recognised the issues faced with head trauma after his friend, who also plays rugby, had suffered multiple concussions from a single season. Unlike a typical body injury, concussions can take time to show, and if not treated properly, can cause major complications.

To make matters worse, recent research has shown that those who participate in contact sports (specifically those in the professional field), are more than three times as likely to die from head-related conditions. However, instead of letting the injuries take control of his and others lives, he decided to turn the tables and develop a system that would instead help to pre-emptively prevent injuries later in life.

The tech developed by Euan Bowen uses off-the-shelf devices to create a head-worn device that measures the wearer's g forces and impacts. Throughout a game, the system monitors impacts and creates a baseline impact level. If there are too many impacts over this limit, the device informs the player to stop playing and to recover as additional impacts could lead to further injuries. 

The start-up company working on this device, HIT Impact, is looking to launch the device to the general public in the upcoming months and look at launching its own Kickstarter to help fund the project. 

How can such tracking systems help future contact sports?

The first and most obvious benefit of the device developed by HIT Impact is that it will enable professional and amateur high-impact sports players to monitor their health. This will in turn help to reduce the risk of complications later in life.

However, the device could also be critical to the medical field, and help to establish clear links between head injuries and conditions later in life. Data gathered by the device could also be used with doctors in A&E scenarios where players who sustain major head injuries could provide the data from their head-worn device, and the doctor will be able to determine the severity of the impact.

The same device can potentially be used in other areas of work including manual labour. Head injuries are common in manual labour jobs, whether from falling debris to slamming into roof beams. While helmets provide impact protection to a degree, injuries can still be had, and such a device could help doctors recognise exactly what has happened to those injured. 

A personal note from the Author -

On the topic of head injuries, it is absolutely infuriating to see bike riders not wearing helmets. While this evidence is only anecdotal, those who arrive in A&E falling from a bike call into two categories; those who wore helmets and those who didn’t. Those who did were often in a coma, those who didn’t, never survive. While this device could save lives in the future, ALWAYS protect your head!

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By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.

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