Intel, Riddell Use Supercomputers to Analyze Football Concussion Effects

Chip giant Intel, along with football helmet maker Riddell, is using supercomputers to simulate and eventually reduce the effect of on-field collisions on the brain.

At the SC10 supercomputing conference in New Orleans, Intel announced that its supercomputers have been able to simulate the way a football player's brain responds to collisions.

Intel is collaborating with Riddell, which for many years has been the official manufacturer of helmets for the NFL.

Intel is also working with Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering, Wayne State University, University of Northern Colorado and Texas State University-San Marcos on the technology.

The goal of the project is to enable quick evaluation of the injured player, according to John Hengeveld, Intel's marketing director for the HPC (high performance computing) group.

For the tests, researchers examined helmet to helmet contact and helmet to ground contact, Hengeveld told eWEEK.

In its demonstration at the conference on Nov. 15, Intel used Xeon workstations and clusters to compute and assess the extent to which an injury could occur.

The partner universities created computer models, and Riddell contributed its proprietary in-helmet telemetry system called Riddell HITS (Head Impact Telemetry System). The technology is able to indicate when an impact will cause a concussion.

Riddell's Sideline Response System software draws the information from the helmets for later analysis or alerts team personnel on the sidelines if the player is in danger from an impact. The application displays the angle and force of each hit.

"Computer simulations have been instrumental in designing improved brain injury criteria," said Dr. Igor Szczyrba of the University of Northern Colorado, in a statement. "In the near future, they can also help doctors diagnose actual brain injuries."

At SC10, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees discussed how telemetry equipment can ward off injuries.

Brees described his ideal helmet as one "that will best protect me from any serious hits. A lot of times, I can't protect myself when I'm sitting in the pocket. A lot of times, I'm just a sitting duck," he said, according to Network World.

Meanwhile, Intel is collaborating with the Mayo Clinic, which is running cranial scans using Intel's MIC (Many Integrated Core) architecture coprocessors, accelerated up to 18 times, Intel reports.

"We took technology out a couple of years and showed a Mayo clinic code that runs on clusters," Hengeveld said. "The intention was to be able to render cranial scans much more rapidly."

Intel MIC could run trillions of calculations per second, according to Intel. The chip maker will manufacture the first MIC, called Knights Corner, using its 22-nanometer manufacturing process.

In the future, football helmets will incorporate Intel Atom CPUs and send data to servers and cloud networks. The data will allow doctors to immediately measure the risk from a football play's collision. Medical personnel on the field will then be prepared to respond quicker to injuries.

Today's football players have wireless sensors inside their helmets that send information to supercomputers, Hengeveld said. "Instrumented data is wirelessly sent to a computer system that processes a model for all the impacts," he said. The computer system then indicates whether the impact is likely to produce a concussion.

In addition to the football helmet news, Intel showed a medical imaging kit, called Knights Ferry, which it worked on with the Mayo Clinic. The project uses compressed signals to reduce the time of a patient's MRI, Intel reports.