The NFL crowdsourcing is fighting head injuries

Sports are exciting, but also carry some risks. In order to develop new ways to improve the head health of American Football players, the NFL crowdsourcing challenge was launched to focus on this issue. The League will partner with General Electric, Under Armour and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

All four entities are committing 22 million dollars to fund the development of this Innovation Tournament. Solvers can focus on three different areas of research:

– Methods for diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injuries.

– New approaches for preventing and identifying brain injuries.

– Advanced materials for impact mitigation.

The first two challenges are more related to health and wellbeing, while the third one is closer to the engineering field. For a physical competition like American Football, the materials that are involved in every collision need to be carefully selected in order to avoid excessive body damage.

NFL players wear helmets and cleats, as well as shoulder, thigh and knee pads. Head injuries are the focus of this Innovation Tournament, so the reinvention of the helmet is a central part of the process. Should better opportunities arise, they could be applied on other fields such as soldiers or workers in the construction industry.

The idea of the entire scheme is that materials can be adjusted in order to lower their transmition of force when fractured. Engineers are expected to innovative in order to come up with procedures that help diffuse the impact, instead of concentrating it and thus adding more risk to the Football practice.

By taking an open approach, this Innovation Tournament stimulates a wide-ranging competition that should lower the physical costs of competing in the NFL. This would in turn create a downward pressure on the very high insurance costs that American Football players are currently bearing.

The Tournament process is split in three rounds. The first one consists on submitting an abstract that will be reviewed by the sponsors. The second one focuses on the development of a full proposal, where six ideas will be selected for a late stage where they will have access to guided funding. Finally, the material development phase will carry on for one year until the Gran Prize is announced.

Do you think that other sports could learn from this example? What about other industries that we have mentioned, such as defense or construction?


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