Researchers are using crash test dummies, with Diversified Technical Systems (DTS) data recorders, to test American football helmets in the lab to improve player safety on the field.
New ways of testing and analysing football head injuries caused by helmet-to-helmet hits is being developed at The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) Department of Mechanical Engineering. Testing methodologies using crash test dummies are being used to improve helmet testing and ultimately reduce concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).
While there are recorders that can be attached to the outside of a helmet to alert coaches and medical staff of possible concussions, these devices track helmet motion and generally do a poor job of tracking actual head motion. The UAB research team wanted to improve the helmets themselves, starting with the testing process, so they are putting the sensors and recorders inside crash test dummy heads for even more biofidelic impact data.
UAB’s test facility recreates the collisions players experience on the field, based on analysing hours and hours of game footage. An 80ft railed track with a motorised sled recreates actual impacts using two crash dummies geared up in protective football equipment. Initially the dummies were wired up to exterior data acquisition systems, but there were issues with tangled cables that restricted free-flight test dynamics. The solution came in the form of miniature DTS SLICE NANO data recorders plus triaxial linear accelerators and angular rate sensors that are embedded inside the dummy head – eliminating any trailing cables.
The system records each collision, calculates the velocities of the players involved and the locations of impact on each player’s helmet. This data is critical to support UAB’s goal to identify helmets that best protect players from concussions, as well as encouraging the design of new, even safer helmets. The institution’s new partnership with VICIS, a helmet technology company, will aid that goal even further.
“Right now, there are no football helmet standards that specifically address concussions,” said Dean Sicking, Ph.D., professor in UAB’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “The DTS data recorders and sensors collect the relevant data that we need from replicated real world hits in order to ascertain what kind of forces the hits cause. Ultimately, we can gather enough data to see whether helmet A or helmet B performs better in protecting against concussions.”
“DTS systems are so small that they really are a game-changer in this important work of improving player safety,” said Steve Pruitt, President and Co-Founder of DTS. “For over 26 years our technology has been focussed on helping keep people safer, whether it’s with automotive manufacturers, aerospace testing with NASA or soldier protection,” he added.