Could Open Innovation Help Prevent Traumatic Sports Injuries?

Tuesday, 08 January 2013 06:30
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There is (appropriately) much attention now being given to the problems of head injuries experienced by participants in high impact sports such as football, soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse at the undergraduate and pro sports levels. However, the problem is much more pervasive and extends to less obvious suspects such as basketball, volleyball gymnastics, and cheerleading.

While modifying rules for these sports can and will help reduce traumatic injuries, I sense that meaningfully addressing this challenge will require significant technical solutions to help create superior protective head gear for participants.

Could this be a challenge where open innovation could play a useful role?

Read on, dear friends...

Could Open Innovation Help Prevent Traumatic Sports Injuries?

Passionate college and professional football fans get excited when a high velocity impact between athletes helps further their teams' fortunes on the field. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm must now be tempered by the realization that every collision also carries the potential for traumatic physical and brain injury for the participants. There is currently considerable and deserved attention being given to the challenge of reducing athlete concussion risks.

If one includes other sports and activities where there is meaningful concussion risk, in addition to football, there are also serious concussion risks associated with soccer, basketball, ice hockey, volleyball, and cheerleading. I would imagine that there are also considerable risks associated with extreme, informal sports such as skate boarding. Here is a link to some statistics on Youth Sports injuries and safety.  While some of these sports require protective head gear, there is still much that can and should be done to improve head protection.

This article is not able to discuss the question of which persons or organizations should be responsible for evaluating and where necessary, upgrading protective equipment to improve their effectiveness. However, if parties were mobilized to attack this challenge in an organized and collaborative way, I suspect that open innovation would be a terrific vehicle to help devise attractive solutions.

What do I mean? I imagine that highly relevant technical inspirations are available across numerous product categories and industries. In addition to solutions being developed and others currently being marketed (e.g. Unequal Technology's Kevlar based foodball helmet insert) there are other interesting approaches worth considering:

d3o energy absorptive gels are presently used in a variety of impact sports applications. These and others are possibly relevant to this inquiry. Military helmets are designed to help protect soldiers from percussive trauma as well as from projectile penetration (not the same types of impacts as in football). Their designs are currently being referenced for inspiration due to their "blast protection" properties. Motorcycle helmet developer 6D Helmets, has devised an Omni-Directional Suspension System to help provide superior shock absorption from G forces: 

I imagine that there are a host of technologies and design approaches that could be explored for this challenge, including inspirations from areas as diverse as automobile design and computer/electronics construction, and more. It will be important to remember that the objective of (re)designing this equipment will be to meaningfully reduce the potential for damaging effects of (repeated) impacts...and not to offer users a false sense of security that promotes greater risk taking behaviors.

This area strikes me as a very worthy challenge where open innovation could be applied to identify effective and viable solutions. This effort could yield tremendous benefits, not only for athletes, but also for many others whose safety may also currently be at risk.

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