The development of sensors, wearable technology and materials, smart apparel and safer equipment can intelligently manage a person’s wellbeing and behavior in a personalized manner.

At the University of Michigan, researchers are working to enhance sport technology in an effort to increase optimal performance and achievement of fitness and health goals. Their work has potential to prevent injury, identify better methods to evaluate potential for injury or to diagnose injury, and develop more informed approaches to optimally return the injured to activity.

Football Helmets

Ellen Arruda, U-M professor of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and macromolecular science, is developing a prototype football helmet that she believes can better protect today’s athletes from concussion.

MITIGATIUM was designed using a composite structure that consists of lightweight elastic and viscoelastic components. The combination of a hard polymer shell and flexible plastic reduce most of the initial force and dissipate energy.

This spring, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will run a series of tests on the MITIGATIUM design to determine if it performs better than current headgear. MITIGATIUM is one of five innovations being tested by NIST, and the winner will receive a $500,000 prize.

“Concussions occur when the brain moves relative to the skull, and that motion can be caused by force (how hard something hits something else) and impulse (how much energy is contained in the impact),” Arruda said. “Current helmets do a very good job of reducing force, and that’s important in preventing brain injuries and skull fractures, but they don’t do a very good job of mitigating impulse. That’s what our whole design strategy revolves around—mitigating force and dissipating energy. You really have to reduce both to prevent brain injury.”

Concussion Stick

U-M Professors James Eckner and James Ashton-Miller developed a manual neurological testing device to measure an athlete’s reaction time when assessing them for concussion.

A tester vertically holds the standardized device, and when it is dropped, the athlete catches it as quickly as possible. The distance it fell is then converted into a reaction time using the formula for a body falling under the influence of gravity.

Researchers found the average reaction time measured over eight drops with this simple test could identify athletes with concussion just as well as other longer, more expensive computerized concussion tests.

Connected Equipment

Noel Perkins, U-M professor of mechanical engineering, has worked with Wilson Sporting Goods and Sony to enhance popular sports equipment.

Using Perkins’ wireless motion sensor technology, Wilson launched its Wilson X Connected Basketball, a basketball/mobile app combination that allows users to track their field goal accuracy, range and train them to shoot at game speed.

Sony unveiled a smart tennis sensor based on the same underlying technology that, when affixed to the handle of a racket, allows the user to record data on every shot, sending information in real time to any linked smartphone via Bluetooth. Through the app screen, users can check the swing type, ball speed, swing speed, ball spin, ball impact spot and other data for every shot.