For what appears to be a huge step forward in innovation for helmet safety, the NFL has awarded a total of $ 1.55 million split between three companies in its Helmet Challenge.
The challenge, launched in 2019, was aimed at dramatically accelerating the development timeline for a football helmet better than anything currently worn by NFL players.
Drawing on the expertise, creativity, and vision of a wide range of individuals and businesses, the NFL expects these innovations to mark a transformational improvement roughly four times that typically seen from a year over year in the design of helmets.
“For the groups, meeting this challenge in a way that has real transferability to football is quite remarkable,” said Jeff Miller, executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy for the league. âI don’t think we’ve been surprised with the result so far; that was the hope when we brought together people from different walks of life, a lot of different experiences and expertise to tackle this problem.
âIt’s the ability for people with different backgrounds and different expertise to find ‘I can bring this and you can bring that, how can we integrate them to create a better solution than we did ourselves- same? “
The scholarship recipients are Kollide from Montreal ($ 550,000); Xenith of Detroit ($ 496,500); and Denver Impressio ($ 454,000). Each has partnered with experts in various fields to research improved designs and materials for helmets.
Impressio used a flexible, multifunctional and highly energy-absorbing elastic material, combined with 3D printing, to rapidly develop new helmet and liner solutions.
Kollide developed and optimized a prototype with an energy absorption system. Its slipper is in complex and organic 3D printed mesh.
Xenith’s prototype uses high performance and durable materials, incorporating a conformal shell, 3D printed mesh backing, energy control structures and customizable foam inserts for enhanced helmet performance and comfort.
âThe challenge itself was to take a giant leap in headset innovation and technology,â says Ron Jadischke, chief engineer at Xenith. âAs we got down to it, I was a little surprised at how challenging it was. You would think that if we put in enough brainpower and research we would get there easily, but it was really a challenge. It took profound innovation in materials and structures to get to where we are. “
Where they have arrived is a place of solid progress in this area, with much more to come. As Miller says, the challenge could have resulted in iterations of much safer helmets, but “would not allow a player to come out of the locker room with the helmet on.”
The aim is to wear helmets that are safer, more comfortable and more versatile, relatively easy to manufacture and capable of applying beyond professional football to colleges and young people.
“The work we want to do is improve the equipment,” explains Franck Le Naveaux, coordinator of the Kollide project and former boxer. âMost of what we have developed is a virtual design and test platform and we have learned a lot about the behavior of the mesh structure, but there is still a lot to discover and refine. “
One area that these three projects may offer future help is in position-specific helmets. The NFL has made this a priority, but the variety of impacts players experience at different positions makes this solution difficult.
Not impossible, however.
âI think that’s where the future will be, but it’s still a tough hill to climb,â said Chris Yakacki, President and CTO of Impressio. âWe’ve all taken an approach that allows you to quickly adapt the spots in and around the helmet. We make them daily in the lab, and do these iterations at an extreme rate. We can do three or four iterations in a week.
âA helmet shouldn’t be right for everyone, and a test shouldn’t be right for everyone. We will have more information to say that for this post, these locations will be hit more frequently. And then using our models, using our test equipment, we can simulate and optimize not only for general test criteria, but for very specific position criteria.
Miller says he’s excited about the current dynamic.
âInnovation seems to have taken hold and bringing in new ideas from more competitors or entrepreneurs or small businesses will only accelerate this,â he notes.
âIf you look at a phone 10 years ago, people would say, ‘What is this? I think that’s how we’re going to feel about the helmets in the same amount of time. What we can design and how fast we can do it will be on a short horizon. “
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