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Car Movie Inspires New Football Helmet Design

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A University of Florida radiologist and a colleague are working on a new football helmet design that they estimate could reduce head injuries by at least 40 percent.

Keith Peters, MD, associate professor of neuroradiology, and Ghatu Subhash, PhD, Knox T. Millsaps professor of mechanical engineering, are developing a series of fluid-filled reservoirs to absorb blunt force. They got the idea from the car-racing movie 2 Fast 2 Furious. In one scene, a car crashes into a water-filled barrier. The water dissipates the force of the impact as it spurts out of its containers.

The helmet system consists of a fluid-filled reservoir connected to an empty reservoir. The fluid shoots into the empty reservoir on impact, then drains back into the primary reservoir. Dr. Peters told the Gainesville Sun newspaper that he and Dr. Subhash think they can squeeze all that into a helmet:

The device is not really different in size to standard padding. This is using simple technology that should be able to fit together nicely.

They’ve been dropping weights onto various materials and have determined that their fluid-based device absorbs five times the impact of traditional padding. But it doesn’t address rotational impact from glancing blows. They’ll deal with that next. Dr. Subhash said increasing rotational protection would “require a redesign of the helmet itself.”

Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries have been an increasing concern in football. Last year, the National Football League announced a $765 million settlement of concussion claims involving retired players. In a surprise move on Tuesday, the federal judge overseeing the case denied preliminary approval of the settlement. She said she feared the money might be insufficient to cover all the retired players who have suffered traumatic brain injury—up to 20,000 of them.

Drs. Peters and Subhash think their ideas could prevent some of those football injuries, inexpensively, and could be used in other types of helmets as well. “The whole point is to make it less expensive,” Dr. Subhash said, “to put it into small strips that could go into a helmet.”

Related CME seminar (up to 21 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Neuro and Musculoskeletal Imaging


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