Med Students Develop ‘Smart’ Helmet to Diagnose Concussions

Dec 21, 2016 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Four students at Texas Tech University at El Paso medical school recently developed a ‘smart’ helmet to help diagnose concussions in football players.  Concussions often go undiagnosed—and many football players play “through” them, unaware that they have a concussion for hours, days, weeks, or even at all.  Sustaining multiple concussions often results in brain damage—which Will Smith brought to the big screen with his film, “Concussion.”

The second year students developed the helmet using NASA technology and completed the project as part of a NASA contest.  NASA originally developed a sensor for astronauts to detect whether or not the space shuttle sustained a hit—and were able to identify the impact site on the ship.  The device works similarly—instead of detecting impact to a spaceship, the sensor on the helmet detects impact to a person’s head.  The information from the sensor then transmits via an app to coaches and parents on their smartphones. 

Research suggests that one in three athletes who receive a concussion while playing a sport continue playing.  As reported on ElPasoProud.com, El Paso medical student Derrick Oaxaca said, “We want to be able to notify the sideline medical personnel, or notify a concerned parent that, ‘hey, you need to check out this player because they may be suffering from a concussion.’ Now, our device isn't going to diagnose the concussion, that all comes down to the medical expertise on the sideline.”

The students hope to be able to sell the smart helmets to athletic stores and high school sports teams—and hope to see their technology used in the military, and for motorcyclists. 

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Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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