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Student develops impact-sensing smart foam for football helmets


November 7, 2013

Jake Merrell field-testing his Xonano smart foam

Jake Merrell field-testing his Xonano smart foam

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As any coach or sports medicine expert will tell you, when an athlete receives a blow to the head, their saying that they feel OK doesn't mean that they don't have a concussion. Particularly in sports like football, it's important to have an objective method of measuring just how much of a hit a player's noggin has taken. While some people have developed impact sensors that can be attached to players' helmets, a student at Utah's Brigham Young University has devised something less obtrusive – impact-sensing helmet-lining foam.

Created by mechanical engineering grad student Jake Merrell, the material is known as Xonano ("exo-nano") smart foam.

It consists of a silicone-based foam, that contains nanoparticles of an undisclosed piezoelectric substance. When that foam is compressed, the particles create an electric charge. That charge is detected by a small microprocessor recessed into the top of the helmet, that wirelessly transmits the data to a tablet monitored by a coach or someone else.

“A coach will know within seconds exactly how hard their player just got hit,” said Merrell. “Even if a player pops up and acts fine, the folks on the sidelines will have data showing that maybe he isn’t OK.”

Jake is currently developing a prototype Xonano-equipped helmet. Besides the foam's use in helmets, however, he also envisions it being used in other applications where impact sensing is required – these could include law enforcement, automotive systems, or the development of footwear.

More information is available in the video below.

Source: Brigham Young University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Why don't teams or helmet makers put impact indicator labels inside the helmets? They're quite inexpensive, have a proven history in commercial uses, don't need batteries and being much less complex, have fewer potential failure modes.


Such technology may help mitigate concussions, but energy from head blows will still transfer to the neck. Crushed vertibrae and ruptured disks are very serious injuries. The pain from a pinched nerve is very dibilitating, and spinal chord injuries are a real danger.

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