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Impact-sensing sports cap measures head injury

Reebok and startup MC10 team to make a smart skullcap that can be worn under helmets to measure impact to the head on athletes of any age or skill set.

Reebok-CCM Hockey, which makes hockey equipment and apparel, will sell the electronic skullcap, but it's not just for hockey players.
Wikimedia Commons

True story. A few years ago, I got a concussion at a baseball game -- and not because a ball hit me in the head. When my friend and I simultaneously turned and leaned in to talk, her head hit mine with such force I thought I had broken my nose. My doctor, however, said all signs pointed toward a concussion. Did I mention it was a Giants game? Go, Giants!

World Series aside, had I been wearing a new impact-sensing skullcap from Reebok and startup MC10, I might have immediately known whether I needed medical treatment or rest before resuming play, which in my case involved sitting on a bench trying to explain baseball to CNET's Swedish summer interns.

The sensor-laden mesh cap provides colored LED readouts that vary according to the level of impact, thus providing instant information on the gravity of the blow. It should be commercially available to consumers early next year, "essentially serving as an extra set of eyes on the ice -- or any other playing field," MC10 says.

I was just fine a few days after my head-butt, but serious head impact injuries, also called traumatic brain injuries, pose a significant public health threat, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In recent years, an increasing number of professional athletes have spoken out publicly about their own head injuries, and data increasingly suggests that jolts to the head can lead to problems such as a greater likelihood of neurodegenerative diseases, depression, and memory loss.

The thin breathable skullcap from M10 contains conformable sensors and can be worn under any helmet. It will be sold under Reebok-CCM Hockey's line of hockey equipment and related apparel.

It is not, however, solely aimed at hockey players, and is in fact meant for athletes of all ages and skill levels involved in contact or noncontact sports. Sensor-filled helmets can cost up to $1,000, but the new product will be more affordable, MC10 says, to give players, parents, coaches, and trainers a visual measurement of force of impact. The company has not revealed a price, nor would it release photos of the product at this time.

MC10 makes LED lighting that can conform to any shape. MC10

MC10, based in Cambridge, Mass., is working on a variety of high-performance stretchable electronics that can be integrated into products such as a tattoolike diagnostic patch that squeezes medical diagnostics and communications technology onto one ultrathin device.

Last year, Notre Dame's football program was among the first to try a new protective mouth guard that records and reports impact data to help battle concussions. It uses acceleration and rotation sensors to gather real-time in-game data and send it via wireless transmitter to a laptop along the sidelines.

In September, the NFL said it would donate $30 million to the National Institutes of Health to support research on brain injuries and other serious medical conditions prominent in athletes.