Smart Helmet under development at Stevens Institute of Technology

Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Stories From Main Street: Stevens Institute Researchers Study Smart Football Helmet With Airbags

April 01, 2018 - 5:30 pm

HOBOKEN, N.J. (WCBS 880) -- Airbags – they save lives in cars. Why not put them in football helmets?

This week’s edition of Stories from Main Street took Sean Adams to the campus of the Stevens Institute of Technology, where researchers are looking into the question of whether airbags might make football helmets safer.

Professor Mehmet Kurt
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Professor Mehmet Kurt is the principal investigator, and is testing a prototype. Overall, he is researching brain biomechanics – as he put it, “what is actually happening during the impact and post-impact.”

The Stevens women’s soccer team helps out in the concussion research.

“They use these custom-fit mouth guards which are equipped with sensors that can measure the motion of the head during an impact,” Kurt said.

Concussion Impact Study Mouth Guard
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

An impact would include the players heading the ball.

“What if an impact does not cause concussion? Is that dangerous in the long term or in the short term?” Kurt said. “Because you might be getting repeated impacts such as soccer heading, and not necessarily feel any symptoms.”

Researchers take the measurements from the mouth guard sensors and run the data through computer models, so as to get a sense of what happens to the brain during an impact.

Smart Helmet
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

“Can we actually build helmets that are so smart, they can change their properties in real time during an impact?” Kurt said.

In a lab with a weighted pendulum and dummy heads, Kurt tests the airbag helmet – which looks like a hood, and is essentially just a neck collar when it is not inflated.

“It could be airbag helmets with a set of fast-switching solenoid valves – they could open and close in a millisecond,” he said.

Also under study is a helmet with such tools as gyroscopes and pressure sensors.

“By using a combination of this information, in real time during impact, we open and close these valves to regulate the pressure inside the helmet,” Kurt said.

The airbag mechanism is a bit bulky and is not quite ready yet.

But Kurt said, “I personally think that smart helmets are the way to go in the future.”