The prevention of concussions and other serious head injuries in student athletes starts with monitoring players while they are participating in sports using small, easy-to-wear sensors that can gather information quickly about the head impacts they may be receiving.
A wide variety of such sensors are on the market today, including ShockBox, the Riddell InSite Impact Response System, X2 Biosystems Head-Trax and others. Another startup is Jolt, which offers the Jolt Sensor, which was inspired by Ben Harvatine, a 2012 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who had suffered several head injuries as a student wrestler.
The Jolt Sensor, a small thumb drive-size device that clips on to a helmet, headband or goggles, includes two accelerometers that carefully measure movement and speed of movement through three axes and then generates data that shows the intensity of impacts experienced by an athlete, Harvatine, the founder and CEO of Jolt, told eWEEK.
One of the accelerometers can measure impacts of up to 200 gravities (g's), while another sensor measures up to 20 g's, providing more accurate information due to a finer scale. The sensors help the Jolt report what an athlete's exposure to impact has been so it can be tracked and monitored, said Harvatine. The data is accrued with each impact so that coaches and parents can track the number and intensity of impacts an athlete experiences over time.
The Jolt Sensor vibrates when it sees a significant enough impact to notify coaches and parents that a concussion could have occurred, he said. "Typically at or above 50 g's, [an athlete] should be checked out whether you appear to be hurt or not."
Such injuries can happen in any sport, including contact sports, ranging from football to soccer and more. "Those kinds of hits are more likely in helmeted contact sports," he said.
The Jolt Sensor (pictured on player's cap) sells for $99 and features a rechargeable lithium polymer battery that lasts one to two months on a charge, said Harvatine. The devices, which began shipping in September 2015 following a Kickstarter campaign that began in August 2014, are used by coaches and parents for middle school and high school athletes to help watch over their health, he said.
An accompanying Android or iOS app and dashboard tracks an unlimited number of athletes and saves the data for analysis. Athletes can be tracked with the device using Bluetooth connections from up to 200 yards away. The company is also working on a Web-based dashboard for use with the device in the future.
"Some pro trainers are trying them to see how it works," Harvatine said of the devices.
The inspiration for the Jolt Sensor was generated by Harvatine's own experiences as a wrestler in college, when he experienced the first concussions he ever had since starting wrestling at 7 years old. He studied mechanical engineering at MIT.
"Although wrestlers weren't seeing the same impacts in magnitude [as sports like football], they were experiencing them more frequently," he told eWEEK. "It was more like a head whipping around rather than direct impacts."
His first concussion in his junior year of college was followed by a "rough recovery" that took several months before he felt well enough to return to his classes, he said. "By the time I realized I wasn't just dehydrated, it was too late."
By using a concussion-tracking device, athletes and their parents and coaches can proactively track every impact of every size as a player participates in sports, providing data about general impact exposure, he said. "That allows parents and coaches to track day to day, week to week and month to month."
The devices are also important because they provide guidance and alerts after an athlete experiences a massive hit so they can get medical attention to check out any potential injuries, said Harvatine.
In 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine estimated that each year roughly 300,000 high school and college athletes are diagnosed with sports-related head injuries—but that number may be seven times higher, due to undiagnosed cases, according to MIT. One-third of sports-related concussions among college athletes went undiagnosed in a 2013 study by the National Institutes of Health. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has consistently referred to the rise of sports-related head injuries as a national epidemic.