It’s no secret that concussions are a massive issue in sports. 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S. alone. Heck, Will Smith even made a whole two-hour middling movie about it. Even one concussion can cause long-lasting brain damage resulting in memory loss, depression, and—in the worst cases—death. While there have been many advancements in protective equipment in sports to try and prevent such injuries (like better helmets and pads in football for example), the best way to prevent the long-term effects of brain trauma is often simply identifying and treating them early.
Luckily, a team of scientists developed a wearable device that can immediately detect concussions during high-impact sports like football or hockey.
In a study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from Michigan State University developed a patch that’s about the size of a band-aid that can be worn on the back of an athlete’s neck that senses when a concussion has occurred. More specifically, the device uses an electrical signal that can detect sudden neck movements, alerting its wearer and nearby medical teams to then treat the injury immediately.
“Whenever there is movement of the neck, there is pressure either in the form of contraction or tension,” Nelson Sepúlveda, a professor of electrical engineering at Michigan State and co-author of the paper, told The Daily Beast. “Those movements are picked up by the patch and translated to an electrical signal.”
To test the patch, the team attached the sensor to a dummy and dropped it from two feet in the air. The device was 90 percent accurate in sensing a potential concussion event when compared to a more intricate (and allegedly more precise) system of separate accelerator sensors and a gyroscope in the dummy’s head.
The researchers now hope to further develop their patch to “transmit the information wirelessly to a receiver that can store and create a database with all the strain experienced by the athlete's head and establish a concussion prediction model,” according to Sepúlveda. That can help its wearer detect concussions earlier or even predict when they might occur—and prevent them entirely.
The tech wouldn’t be limited to detecting head trauma in just sports. The device “could also find applications in monitoring structural health of underground pipes,” Sepúlveda said.
As the sports world continues to grapple with the long-term disastrous impact of head trauma, a device like this can go a very long way in detecting—and preventing—its worst effects. Not only could the patch help players get immediate treatment, it could also save their very lives.