Woodpecker-Inspired Football Helmet to Curb Concussion

Alberto Garcia's football helmet and shoulder-pad system protects the brain the same way a Woodpecker's brain is protected from repeated hits to the head.

For the past several years, preventing concussions for football players has been a top priority for many organizations around the country -- from high schools, to colleges, to the NFL.

Now, a new helmet technology invented by a Texas Tech University student may be able to help prevent concussions in players by mimicking the way a Woodpecker's brain is protected from repeated hits to the head, reports Popular Science.

Alberto Garcia has been working on this technology since he was just 15 years old. While playing high school football he suffered a concussion and was told he wouldn't be able to play any more. The disappointment of this drove him to further develop his idea.

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"I was 15, a sophomore in high school, when I started this project -- I knew what materials I needed, but didn't know how to build it or code it just yet," said Garcia.

Garcia's initial idea was sparked by observing certain animal behaviors. He noticed that woodpeckers and long-horned rams suffer repeated blows to the head on a daily basis, but never sustain a brain injury. Why is that?

As it turns out, it's because these animals have natural stabilizers in their necks. The stabilizers prevent their head from quickly whipping back and forth when they're banging their head against something. Humans lack these stabilizers, which causes us to suffer whiplash upon a hard hit to the head and contributes to brain damage.

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Inspired by this stabilization system, Garcia installed a microcontroller made by Arduino into an integrated helmet and shoulder pads system. When someone receives a hit of a certain magnitude while wearing the system, the controller activates the stabilizers and locks the helmet into place.

"If you reduce the whiplash motion of the neck, then you can reduce the odds of receiving a spinal cord or neck injury because all that energy is dispersed into the stabilizers," Garcia told Texas Tech Today.

The entire set-up is only 5 pounds so it's not too heavy for players to wear and easily move in on the field. There are also sensors that measure the amount of force received by a player upon impact, and transmits the data to trainers on the sideline. This could help to more easily and accurately diagnose concussions and get faster treatment.

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The true impact of football-related head injuries has come to light in recent years with films like Concussion, starring Will Smith, and documentaries like ESPN's The '85 Bears, that really show the devastation of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in former NFL players. Some players that suffered from CTE have even committed suicide.

While it's still in the testing phase, Garcia's helmet system could be a literal game-changer for football. If the technology is adopted and refined by schools and professional organizations, it could even save lives.