JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, with growing concern over concussions and related injuries, a start-up company in Upstate New York is using wearable technology to help keep athletes safer.
It is a device that sends head injury alerts as soon as they happen on the field and in the ring and also measures the cumulative effect of multiple hits.
From member station WXXI and Public Media’s Innovation Trail, Sasha-Ann Simons WXXI.
MICHAEL ROBERTSON, Boxer, Aquinas Institute: We start off with a 10-minute run. After the run, we do what’s called a set. We do jumping jacks, pushups, squats, like all that kind of stuff. And we wrap our hands.
SASHA-ANN SIMONS: It’s a daily ritual for Michael Robertson. The 16-year-old is on the high school boxing team at Aquinas Institute. Six days a week, he gears up to get in the ring.
His head gear is high-tech. Before every match, he slips a small sensor inside his headband and then puts a helmet on. Jab after jab, the sensor, this one called the Linx Impact Assessment System, or IAS, sends real-time data to his coach and parents through an app.
Not only does the sensor help spot signs of a concussion. It also can uncover other, more common types of brain injuries.
DOMINIC ARIOLI, Head Boxing Coach, Aquinas Institute: One of the things that I look at with the device is not only how hard they’re getting hit, but if they’re getting hit, getting hit how often with blows that register.
SASHA-ANN SIMONS: Aquinas has been field testing the concussion sensor for about two years. Inside the helmet, the sensor registers the amount of force from a blow and will trigger a green, yellow, or red light, with red being the indicator that the hit was too hard to ignore. The data’s available in real time and can be stored for review after the match.
DOMINIC ARIOLI: We will check with the system, and we will also check with the student, how did their blow feel? And they’re a pretty good system.
SASHA-ANN SIMONS: The blow is also given an impact assessment score.
DAVID BORKHOLDER, Chief Technology Officer, BlackBox Biometrics: That gives a number from one to 100, and so you can — the individual can gauge the severity of each of those impacts on that scale. But we also capture all the detailed data, which is really critical for research.
SASHA-ANN SIMONS: David Borkholder is in charge of the technology at BlackBox Biometrics, which created LINX IAS. His team is brainstorming ways to push the technology forward.
DAVID BORKHOLDER: Another emerging area that I think is actually going to be even more important are repetitive subconcussive hits.
SASHA-ANN SIMONS: Recent research has shown that many brain injuries are from subconcussive hits, which don’t display the symptoms of a concussion.
And according to Dr. Jeff Bazarian of the University of Rochester Medical center, it’s important for wearable sensors to be able to pick up on those, too.
DR. JEFF BAZARIAN, University of Rochester Medical Center: There are football players that get hit all the time, day in and day out, never have a concussion. We look at their brains, it looks like they have some mild brain injury.
SASHA-ANN SIMONS: Over the years, more companies have introduced impact sensors and more doctors have diagnosed concussions.
Bazarian says that wasn’t always the case.
DR. JEFF BAZARIAN: People would say, these problems that you’re having are not rooted in anything real. They’re just a psychiatric response to being hit.
But now that we can see it, people are saying, oh, wow, this is kind of like a stroke or a ministroke. There’s actually injury here.
SASHA-ANN SIMONS: There’s an adage in boxing that the best defense is to not get hit.
Arioli is a firm believer technology can’t take the place of his experience and good training, but says he thinks devices like LINX IAS are useful.
DOMINIC ARIOLI: I can see if they need to keep their hands up, but it gives me something to show them, physically show them, look how often you’re getting hit. What’s the story here?
SASHA-ANN SIMONS: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Sasha-Ann Simons in Rochester, New York.