Researchers using new technology to make football helmets safer

New liner hopes to reduce concussions
Posted at 12:07 PM, Feb 08, 2021

DENVER — A team of researchers is using a new technology to make football helmets safer for players.

“Inside the head form, we have nine accelerometers, so nine sensors, that we’re able to capture the accelerations at each impact, so we can evaluate how well our helmet is performing,” said Lillian Chatham, one member of the team at Impresio Tech.

In 2018, the team won $50,000 from the NFL after pitching the league an idea about technology that could reduce concussions.

“Really that kicked things off for us. That really accelerated our ability to really tackle this problem, pun intended,” said Chris Yakacki, the president of Impessio.

He and his teammates are using 3D printers to manufacture a liner that goes inside the helmet.

“It lays a layer of fine powder, shoots a laser, melts that layer of powder and then lays another layer of powder on top and rinse, wash, repeat all the way up until you have your part,” said Richard Wojcik, another member of the Impressio team.

“What really lies behind the science of our material is liquid crystals,” said Yakacki.

Liquid crystals, what does that mean exactly? Well, liquid crystals are used every day. They put the LC in LCD. Yakacki and his team are using that technology and embedding it into soft rubbers, which makes them incredibly effective at absorbing impacts.

“So, we have this material that’s very soft, very comfortable, can form to your head. But when impacted, all those small molecular crystals will rotate, get rid of the energy and attenuate those accelerations experienced by the wearer,” said Yakacki.

It’s kind of like a shock absorber on your car, but for your head. That way, if you’re playing football and helmets collide, the hope is it can help make sure nothing happens to your brain.

By the way, this machine is smashing footballs at 13 miles per hour. That’s the slowest setting. NFL and college players can pretty easily make impacts at that speed.

Impressio will be competing with four others to develop new helmet technology that improves player safety. First prize takes home $1 million, and that might just be the beginning.

“We want to make sure that this technology is really accessible to everyone. Our collegiate players, our youth players, our kids, but then also for those who wear helmets riding their bicycles to work. We want to make sure this can reach to our military services members. It can reach to hockey players. It can reach commuter bicyclist and beyond."

So, whether you’re watching NFL games or your kid's Pop Warner game, people like Yakacki and the rest of the Impressio team are doing everything they can to make each helmet crunch a little safer.