A textile-based helmet liner, an impact-reducing field surface, and a safer face mask were announced as the latest winners of the NFL’s HeadHealthTech Challenge IV on Thursday.
Corsair Innovations, which is developing the Fiber Energy Absorbing Material (FEAM) textile material for helmets, received a $168,504 grant, artificial turf manufacturer FieldTurf was given $195,000, and Mississippi State startup Yobel Technologies was awarded $20,000 to test its research on energy-absorbent face masks.
“We are very encouraged by the quality of these tech submissions over time,” NFL EVP of health and safety initiatives Jeff Miller said, “and we believe that they will be getting more sophisticated.”
HeadHealthTech manager Barry Myers is the director of innovation at Duke’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which leads on behalf of the NFL’s Football Research, Inc. More than $1.34 million has been distributed to 11 companies thus far through the crowdsourcing tech project. Myers said the purpose of the program is to build a bridge between talent and capital—the chasm “where many technologies languish.” Entries are now being accepted for the next competition through Sept. 13.
“We are sector-agnostic, meaning we are looking for technologies that are exciting, positively impact the game and move safety forward for all our players,” said Myers, who is also a biomedical engineering professor at Duke.
Corsair, which also received $250,000 in a previous HeadHealthTech Challenge, will use the money to continue refining its technology for football helmets and to test the product rigorously. Product development consultant Sander Reynolds explained that its proprietary textile material, FEAM, uses tiny, spring-like fibers to reduce both linear and rotational impacts on a player’s head.
“That allows the helmet to move rather than the head to move with the helmet,” Reynolds said.
The FEAM material, which is also breathable and washable, was developed by researchers at UMass-Dartmouth. Corsair is based in Plymouth, Mass., and has an going collaboration with Xenith helmets. Reynolds was VP of product development at Xenith, the formerly Lowell, Mass., based company that relocated to Detroit after purchase by Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans. FEAM is already in use by some professional baseball umpires as a cap insert, and by Reovo, which is trying to produce protective soccer headgear.
Posted by Corsair Innovations on Saturday, December 12, 2015
Foam has long been the mainstay of helmet protection, but that substance has fewer material properties that can be manipulated to improve protection.
“Textiles really provide an opportunity to do things that a foam simply can’t do,” Myers said. “By having a bunch of fibers that are short, they are like columns and they do a great job of pushing back when a blow is experienced. On the other hand, they bend from side to side really easily, so in that respect, the twisting element won’t be transmitted to the head nearly as readily. And they’ll have energy absorption in that fashion.”
Corsair creates FEAM through flocking, depositing many small fibers onto a surface. The material can be customized for fit, comfort, and impact performance by changing the length, diameter, and density of the fibers. FEAM can either be deployed independently or in conjunction with other padding.
“From a design element, there’s more elements to tune,” Myers said. “With a foam, you can make it so dense or less dense. With a structural material like a textile, you can change the fiber length or diameter so you really can specify what you want this material to do for the helmet. That makes it both hard and really exciting in the potential to really improve helmets.”