Gadgets

Bill Gates Wants to Patent a Concussion-Sensing Football Helmet

Interior sensors would detect a head injury and then a wireless communication system would instantly alert coaches and doctors on the sidelines.

Bill Gates is ready for some football. Well, kind of. He's one of several inventors and investors listed on a recent patent filing for football helmet that uses internal sensors to assess the risk of player concussion in real time.

Like other high-tech football helmets - they're all the rage just now - the prototype device is configured to prevent concussions in the first place, ideally. But the big difference with the device backed by Gates is that the helmet would communicate instantly with doctors and coaches on the sidelines. When a running back takes a big hit, the helmet itself would perform a kind of instant diagnostic test.

The patent application describes a system by which internal sensors monitor the condition of a special lining within the helmet's protective shell. When an impact to the helmet occurs, the sensors determine the force, acceleration and torque of the hit. Software within the helmet assesses the severity of the impact and monitors particular thresholds relative to concussions and other kinds of head and neck injuries.

If and when these thresholds are reached, the helmet itself would trigger an audible and/or visual indicator that signifies trouble. For visual indications, the patent suggests the helmet might trigger a flashing light or even smoke. That would lend some visual flair to football games.

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In addition, the helmet would automatically send alerts and data via a wireless signal to a laptop, tablet or smartphone on the sidelines. The helmet also assesses damage to itself, and sends alerts when it needs to be repaired of replaced.

The patent was filed by Intellectual Ventures, a patent development company that focuses on licensing of intellectual property. The company was founded by former Microsoft executives and often partners with the Gates Foundation for developing technology with Global Good, an initiative focused on health and safety issues.

Concerns about head injuries and concussions have rattled football, so to speak, from youth teams all the way up to the National Football League. The NFL recently pledged $100 million to fund research in the area, after several years of intense criticism about the league's concussion protocols and policies.

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Research into sports concussions is extremely busy right now, particularly in concern to retired pro football players and the condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A 2015 study by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University produced some genuinely terrifying numbers. After studying the brains of 91 former NFL players, scientists found evidence of CTE in 87 of them - 96 percent. CTE also appeared in 79 percent (131 of 165) of all football players studied.

Research into youth football leagues has produced even more scary statistics. The heightened awareness around concussions and brain injuries has resulted in a precipitous decline in youth football participation, as well as some lawsuits. According to a recent study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, at least 25 percent of parents no longer let their kids play any contact sports because of fear of concussions.

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