Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Head Impact Sensor Research

Approximately 1 in 5 high school athletes who plays a contact sport – such as soccer, lacrosse, and American football – suffers a concussion each year. To understand the frequency, magnitude and direction of head impacts that athletes sustain, a wide variety of sensors have been developed to collect head impact biomechanics data, including instrumented helmets, skull caps, headbands, mouth guards and skin patches.

In the Objective Translational Multi-domain Early Concussion Assessment Study, researchers are deploying head impact sensors to quantify biomechanical load exposure by sport and sex, and relationships between load exposure and neuro-functional metrics. Integrated with other research aims and methods, research using head impact sensors will provide new knowledge regarding high-risk biomechanical settings for the young brain.

First, the Minds Matter research team is determining protocols that yield high quality data for research.

Video Confirmation of Head Impact Sensors

Head Impact Sensor research
Collecting in vivo head impact biomechanics data using headband-mounted Sensors

In a 2020 study, Video Confirmation of Head Impact Sensor Data from High School Soccer Players, we collected in vivo head impact biomechanics data on youth athletes. We partnered with the Shipley School, where their athletes were already wearing Triax SIM-G headband-mounted impact sensors during sports competition. While the Triax SIM-G had been validated in a laboratory setting, we.found that head impact sensors can record a large number of false positive impacts during real game play in high school competitive soccer games. The extra step to video-confirm the sensor data is essential to minimize false positives before using this data for research and in injury prevention strategies for player safety. Am J Sports Med. March 2020. Read the press release. Read the lead author's blog abotu this reseearch.

Laboratory Evaluation of Helmet-Based Kinematic Measurement Systems

This line of research, completed in 2014, used sensor-instrumented helmets to study mild traumatic brain injury or concussion thresholds and mechanisms in ice hockey by observing actual athletes engaged in games and practices. While head impact sensors cannot diagnose mild traumatic brain injury, they measure, calculate and report the severity of the impact to the head and can serve as a second set of eyes for medical professionals by identifying players that need clinical evaluation. This research seeks to validate these sensors’ accuracy and reliability by testing helmets fitted with two different types of sensors. For each sensor, an anthropomorphic test device (ATD), or crash test dummy head and neck, was fitted with a hockey helmet equipped with the sensors and subjected to repeated impacts of multiple intensities and directions.

Published Studies:

Lab-based data collection of Head Impact Sensors
  • The head acceleration measured by the six-accelerometer Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) System was compared with reference acceleration measured at the center of gravity of the ATD head. Linear acceleration is directly measured in the HIT system and rotational acceleration is estimated from the linear measures.  This is the first comprehensive evaluation of accuracy of peak head acceleration measured by the HIT System for hockey and highlighted important differences in accuracy with impact direction and interface between the head and helmet.  Accuracy was less than had previously been reported, specifically for rotational acceleration. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. January 2014. Read the study abstract.
  • A different helmet-based system (the gForce Tracker, or GFT) measures the kinematics associated with head impacts by integrating the use of accelerometers as well as gyroscopes to directly measure rotational velocity. The GFT-reported linear and rotational kinematics were compared reference acceleration measured at the center of gravity of the ATD head to evaluate the system’s accuracy. Linear acceleration accuracy was similar to other sensor systems; however, rotational kinematics more closely matched the reference measures.  Differences in accuracy by impact direction, location of the sensor on the helmet, and helmet brand were noted. Annals of Biomedical Engineering. December 2014 Read the study abstract.

Principal Investigators:  Kristy Arbogast, PhD, Declan Patton, PhD

Funding: National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke), Pennsylvania Department of Health, National Science Foundation, Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies, with additional support from Toyota North America Inc, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as SAFER- the Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Read the Sports Illustrated article about potential and limitations of current head impact sensors

Read more about Concussion research at CIRP.