The IoT Helps Prevent Concussions in Young Athletes




Every football fan dreads the moment when a player makes a headfirst tackle and ends up laying dazed on the ground, struggling to remember where he is. Every athletic trainer recognizes the symptoms of a concussion, immediately removes the player from the game and, depending on the severity of the symptoms, arranges for medical attention.

Experts unanimously recommend that adult, child and adolescent athletes with a concussion not return to play on the same day because they are disproportionately likely to receive another. Research suggests that an athlete that has already received one concussion is 1-2 times more likely to receive a second one. Likewise, an athlete that has had two concussions is 2-4 times more likely to incur a third and the likelihood of additional injury continues to rise along with the number of previous concussions.

But what about the common case where the symptoms of a concussion appear later or not at all? Or what if the player hides the symptoms because he or she is caught up in the excitement of the game and does not want to be taken out? The Internet of Things (IoT) can help by making it possible to identify blows to the head that have the potential to cause concussions and provide immediate notification to the coach or medical staff.

Concussions are caused by high-magnitude accelerations of the head, which are nearly always the result of a collision between two or more athletes or between athletes and inanimate objects such as a goal post or a fence. The accelerations can be either linear – which usually happens in a head-on collision – or rotational – when the head experiences an impact that causes it to spin sideways.

“We have developed a product that measures these impacts in real time during the game,” said David Gallaher, Director of Communications for i1 Biometrics. “Each player is fitted with our Vector Mouthguard that contains sensors that measure its acceleration.”

A mouth guard has the advantage that it is directly connected to the teeth which in turn are connected to the skull, so the mouth guard moves exactly the same way as the skull. In order to measure all possible impacts, the mouth guard incorporates a 6-axis inertial motion sensor that includes a 3-axis linear accelerometer and a 3-axis gyroscope that measures rotational acceleration.

The Vector Mouth Guard also breaks ground in its utilization of the IoT to use sensor data to generate alerts to coaches and others in a position to make decisions to protect athletes. The data captured by the Vector mouth guard is first transmitted via a proprietary industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) band radio to a personal computer or tablet on the sidelines. The use of an ISM band radio makes it possible to use the device on fields without Wi-Fi connectivity or in areas of significant telecommunications congestion such as large, crowded sport stadiums. The software can be configured to generate alerts when a player’s head receives an impact above a predefined value or based on multiple smaller impacts. 

When the computer or tablet is connected to the Internet, the data is uploaded to the cloud where it can be subjected to even more sophisticated analysis.

“The coach has the option of studying the history of a player over the course of the game with respect to head impacts by generating a 3D heat map of the player’s head the showing frequency and magnitude of impacts and patterns of repeat exposure,” Gallaher said. “This information helps to evaluate the seriousness of the injury and also to identify cases where a player’s style may be potentially dangerous. For example, a substantial impact at the top of the helmet may indicate that a football player is dropping their head prior to making a tackle which could put them at risk for a spinal injury. Heat maps also can identify drills that lead to head impact exposure.”

If the player says they are feeling good but the data shows they took a serious hit, the coach or athletic trainer may decide to bring the player to the sideline for an evaluation. Or if a player takes a number of smaller hits and still feels fine, the coach may check the magnitude of the impacts and decide that they can continue playing but discuss with them the need to change their style of play to minimize the opportunity for head impacts.

Currently, 60 teams consisting of approximately 6,000 athletes are using the Vector Mouthguard. Gallaher cautions that: “The system does not prevent concussions. It is a tool for athletic trainers and sports medicine personnel to receive highly accurate, objective data allowing them to make more informed decisions on the field.”