Three companies share $ 1.55 million in the NFL Helmet Challenge


For what appears to be a huge step forward in innovation for helmet safety, the NFL awarded a total of $ 1.55 million split between three companies in its Helmet Challenge on Sunday.

The challenge, launched in 2019, was aimed at dramatically accelerating the development timeline for a football helmet better than anything currently worn by NFL players.

Drawing on the expertise, creativity, and vision of a wide range of individuals and businesses, the NFL expects these innovations to mark a transformational improvement roughly four times that typically seen from a year over year in the design of helmets.

“For the groups, meeting this challenge in a way that has real transferability to football is quite remarkable,” said Jeff Miller, executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy for the league. “I don’t think we’ve been surprised with the outcome so far; that was the hope when we brought together people from different backgrounds, many different backgrounds and expertise to solve this problem.

“It’s the ability for people with different backgrounds and expertise to find ‘I can bring this and you can bring that, how can we integrate them to create a better solution than we did ourselves. ? ‘”

The scholarship recipients are Kollide from Montreal ($ 550,000); Xenith of Detroit ($ 496,500); and Denver Impressio ($ 454,000). Each has partnered with experts in various fields to research improved designs and materials for helmets.

Impressio used a flexible, multifunctional and highly energy-absorbing elastic material, combined with 3D printing, to rapidly develop new helmet and liner solutions.

Kollide developed and optimized a prototype with an energy absorption system. Its liner is made of a complex and organic 3D printed mesh.

Xenith’s prototype uses high performance and durable materials, incorporating a conformal shell, 3D printed mesh backing, energy control structures and customizable foam inserts for enhanced helmet performance and comfort.

“The challenge in itself was to take a giant leap in headset innovation and technology,” said Ron Jadischke, chief engineer at Xenith. “As we got down to it I was a little surprised at how challenging it was. You would think that if we put in enough brainpower and research we would easily be able to. to get there, but it was really a challenge. It took a deep innovation in both materials and structures to get to where we are. “

Where they have arrived is a place of solid progress in this area, with much more to come. As Miller says, the challenge could have resulted in iterations of much safer helmets, but “would not allow a player to come out of the locker room with the helmet on.”

The aim is to wear helmets that are safer, more comfortable and more versatile, relatively easy to manufacture and capable of applying beyond professional football to colleges and young people.

“The work we want to do is improve the equipment”, explains Franck Le Naveaux, coordinator of the Kollide project and former boxer. “Most of what we have developed is a virtual design and test platform and we have learned a lot about the behavior of the mesh structure, but there is still a lot to discover and refine.”

One area that these three projects may offer future help is in position-specific helmets. The NFL has made this a priority, but the variety of impacts players experience at different positions makes this solution difficult.

Not impossible, however.

“I think that’s where the future will be, but it’s still a tough hill to climb,” said Chris Yakacki, President and CTO of Impressio. “We’ve all taken an approach that allows you to quickly adapt the spots in and around the helmet. We make them daily in the lab and do these iterations at an extreme rate. We can do three or four. iterations in a week.

“One helmet shouldn’t be right for everyone, and one test shouldn’t be right for everyone. We’ll get more information to say, for that position, those locations are going to be hit more frequently. And then using our models, using our test equipment, we can simulate and optimize not only for general test criteria, but for very specific position criteria. “

Miller said he was excited about the current dynamic.

“Innovation seems to have taken hold and bringing in new ideas from more competitors or entrepreneurs or small businesses will only accelerate this,” he said.

Yakacki added, “If you look at a phone 10 years ago, people would say, ‘What is this? I think that’s how we’re going to feel about the helmets in the same amount of time. What we can design and how quickly we can do it will be on a short time horizon. “

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