The National Football League named a Denver startup as one of three finalists in a challenge to design innovative helmets for NFL players' comfort and safety.
The NFL Helmet Challenge has awarded about $3 million to the teams. The three groups — based in Denver, Montreal, Canada and Detroit, Michigan — will receive a total of $1.55 million to continue their research, on top of $1.37 million granted to the teams last year to help them create their prototypes. The three finalist groups will use the new funds to advance their designs and technologies, according to the NFL.
Each team is made of experts in biomechanical engineering, materials science, additive manufacturing, and current helmet manufacturers
Denver-based Impressio was named one of the finalists Monday morning. It was granted $454,000.
Impressio uses a unique, liquid-crystal elastomers material, which is soft and elastic. According to the company's website, the material has an "an extraordinary ability to dissipate high levels of energy."
Submissions through the NFL Helmet Challenge showed up to a 13% improvement above the current top-performing helmets used in the NFL, according to laboratory testing. The three finalist helmets include design innovations such as:
- Optimization of helmet space as a result of computer modeling
- New materials
- Novel structural designs for managing energy
- Use of advanced manufacturing techniques (including 3D printing, which allows for more design flexibility and rapid design iteration)
"This rate of improvement represents more than four times what is typically seen annually in new helmet designs," the NFL said.
The three finalists' helmets had to reduce the severity of impact, while also having a high likelihood it could be used by the NFL.
According to NFL data, more than 200 concussions were reported each year since 2015, with the exception of 2020, where there were no preseason games due to COVID-19. In the past five years, 2017 saw the most concussions in preseason and the regular season, with a total of 281. In 2019, there were 224 concussions on the field during that time frame.
The judging panel for the challenge is made of former NFL players, along with experts in engineering, biomechanics, neurology, and sports business. Click here to see the judges.
One of the judges, Denver Broncos Equipment Manager Chris Valenti, said he was excited to see the out-of-the-box thinking.
"The bettering of technologies and materials within the context of a helmet more customized than ever to a players' head using 3D scanning and printing is going to be huge moving forward for players," Valenti said.
Dr. Jeff Crandall, chair of the NFL's Engineering Committee, said the organization is excited for what's ahead and to see "transformational improvement."
"The Helmet Challenge was an assessment that there was untapped potential out there, including from incumbent manufacturers who had ideas on their white boards that they hadn't yet brought forward, and from innovators and entrepreneurs working in other areas that could apply their innovations to football," he said.
The other two finalists are Kollide out of Montreal and Xenith out of Detroit.