NFL Suspends Program Collecting Data on Hits From Helmet Sensors

February 20, 2015 in News

The National Football League has suspended a voluntary pilot program that used sensors to gather data on the velocity, location and number of hits to players’ helmets, the New York Times reports.

Using the sensors, the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee collected data on 11,000 hits to helmets during the 2013 season. According to the Times, the data — even with an error rate of 10% to 20% — could be used to determine whether:

  • Helmet design should be improved; and
  • Rules on particular plays, such as kickoffs, should be altered.

However, the committee said it experienced issues determining the severity and location of the hits. Specifically, committee member Robert Cantu said that the sensors were “pretty accurate” when helmets were hit at “the center of gravity perfect” but that “[t]he further you get away from the center,” the less accurate the results would be.

In addition, the NFL Players Association expressed concern about the privacy of the data and whether the information might be used against a player.

Next Steps

Although the league has halted use of the sensors, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said the committee will “continue to review and analyze the research.”

According to brain trauma expert Kevin Guskiewicz, who has been coordinating research for the project, the committee will attempt to determine if the league could use a better system to gather data.

Stefan Duma, director of Virginia Tech’s biomedical engineering department, said that while he was not aware of why the NFL was suspending the pilot project, he “continue[s] to think that while not perfect, the sensors are valuable and give reasonable data that [are] useful.” He also expressed concern that the NFL’s decision could “dampen” similar research efforts (Belson, New York Times, 2/19).

Study: Computer Tracking System Could Help Detect Concussions

In related news, a computer-based eye-tracking technology system could help to diagnose concussions and determine concussion severity, according to a study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, Health Data Management reports.

In developing the tool, researchers created an algorithm for tracking eye movements which compares the Cartesian coordinates of the right and left pupils over 200 seconds as a patient views a short film clip being shown inside an aperture on a computer screen (Goth, Health Data Management, 2/19). According to Reuters/Fox News, disconjugated eye movement has long been linked to brain injuries (Reuters/Fox News, 2/2).

For the study, a New York University-led research team compared data from 64 healthy patients with information on 75 participants who had experienced trauma that resulted in admittance to New York City-based Bellevue Hospital Center’s emergency department.

The study found that trauma patients who needed CT scans were significantly less able to coordinate their eye movements compared with the control group. Meanwhile, 23 trauma patients who had injuries but did not need CT scans were able to coordinate their eye movements to a similar degree as the control group (Health Data Management, 2/19).

In addition, the researchers found that the computer system was able to detect concussion symptoms in some patients whose CT scans did not show a noticeable brain injury. They also found that the severity of issues with coordinating eye movement was linked to the severity of concussion systems (Reuters/Fox News, 2/2).

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