The University of Illinois (UI) at Urbana- Champaign and Unity High School in Tolono, IL, have teamed with Simbex, a research and product- development company in New Hampshire, to develop a system inside a football helmet that monitors head injuries. It works in tandem with helmets made by Riddell, and was first tested on the Virginia Tech football team in 2002. Unity is the only high school in the nation using the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS).
The system uses six strategically placed, spring-loaded accelerometers to wirelessly beam information to a Web-based system on a laptop computer on the sidelines. It more immediately detects when blows to players' heads may result in concussions or more severe brain injuries. Impact data, including location of hits, magnitude of force, and length of hits, is recorded for analysis by a UI research team.
At Unity, each varsity player was given a baseline assessment for neurocognitive function prior to the start of the season. On the field during practice or a game, when the encoder in an athlete's helmet registers a hit, the system beams impact information to the sideline laptop, which is monitored by the team's trainer. If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, he will not return to play until neurocognitive function returns to baseline performance.
The purpose of the research is to look at how hard and where players get hit, which could determine the need to develop a different type of helmet. At Unity, the system has already picked up one athlete who was hitting with the top of his head, a practice that could result in spinal-cord injury. Because they were able to identify the pattern, the team's coaches were able to work with the athlete to correct it.