As concerns about concussions continue to grow, especially around football, companies and policy makers have been looking for ways to make the game safer.
One area of focus has been looking at improving the safety of equipment, football helmets in particular. Helmet manufacturers have been honing designs to help reduce impact to the brain, as well as incorporate technology to track hits or measure impacts.
Vicis, a startup company based in Seattle, has a different take on helmet design. With $10 million in funding, mostly from private investors, but also including $500 thousand from an NFL program supporting safety innovations, they say their goal is to reduce the incidence of concussions in football by 50 percent.
With that in mind, Vicis has manufactured a helmet called the Zero1. The key difference between this helmet and a traditional helmet is that it replaces a rigid outer shell with a softer outer skin with a harder plastic core inside. The softer shell gives a bit when struck, which, like a car’s bumper, slows the impact.
In addition to Zero1’s additional layers that dampen impact further, the helmet has four chinstraps that attach to the its inner shell as opposed to the outer shell, like a traditional helmet. Engineers think the interior chinstrap attachment could curb energy flowing through the jaw.
The main idea of diffusing energy comes from the auto industry, which found years ago that crushable materials are better at protecting people riding in cars because they absorb energy as they collapse.
Vicis helmets won’t come cheap, as the company expects the Zero1 will sell for $1,500 each – whereas traditional helmets retail for $200 to $400. The company hopes to target NFL and top college teams, and eventually to develop lower-priced models for high school and youth football.