Football helmets aren’t what they as soon as had been. And, whereas more often than not that flip of phrase is used to explain how issues was once higher within the good outdated days, on this case, it’s definitely not.

Helmets are, in some senses, probably the most essential little bit of protecting gear soccer gamers put on on the gridiron. Over the years, they’ve advanced from the leatherhead shell of yore to benefit from breakthroughs on the fabric science entrance. Today’s massive 4 helmet makers embrace the legacy manufacturers Schutt and Riddell, along with comparative newcomers like VICIS and Xenith.

But who does the NFL flip to when it’s seeking to inject some contemporary pondering into helmet manufacturing and design; not for the needs of contemporary aesthetics however to essentially enhance safety to protect the careers and wellbeing of immediately’s (and tomorrow’s) gamers? As it seems, the reply entails analysis labs just like the Smart Materials and Biomechanics Lab on the University of Colorado Denver.

The group, led by affiliate professor and self-proclaimed “polymer dork” Chris Yakacki, has been arduous at work inventing a brand new protecting materials for the subsequent era of soccer gamers. And it’s turning to some innovative know-how, and the facility of evolutionary science to assist.

Reinventing the helmet

Back in June 2020, the National Football League and Football Research, Inc., a medical group that investigates soccer accidents, handed a University of Colorado Denver spinoff known as Impressio half 1,000,000 {dollars} (properly, $491,999 if you wish to be exact) to help its work creating modern helmet prototypes.

These might be submitted as a part of the NFL Helmet Challenge, an open contest that seeks to make helmets considerably higher than those at present used on the gridiron. The deadline for this problem is July 2021, and the successful entry will obtain a cool $1 million for its troubles. Provided it’s in a position to remedy the issue, that’s.

“They’re requesting a 30% improvement in reducing impacts in helmets,” Yakacki mentioned. “I think the only way you’re gonna do that is you don’t keep using the same materials. Anyone who enters this competition using traditional foam and polycarbonate… well, we’ve been studying that stuff for 50 years. [We need something new.]”

The University of Colorado’s answer doesn’t name for a complete redesign of the soccer helmet. “There’s a wonderful SpongeBob SquarePants episode where he puts a giant foam helmet that’s like three feet in diameter on his head,” Yakacki laughed. “I’m like, ‘well, that would solve the problem.” However, he acknowledged that this probably wouldn’t meet with notably good suggestions exterior of its apparent security benefit.

Instead, like a brand new smartphone that appears just like final yr’s mannequin, however packs a bunch of thrilling new tech below the hood, many of the innovation within the staff’s new helmet goes to occur on the within: particularly with the fabric lining the helmet.

Nature-inspired designs

Nature has already proven us probably the most evolutionarily sound shock absorbers within the type of muscle groups that broaden and contract to soak up the power of impression, similar to when an individual lands from a leap or goes for a run, their toes pounding towards the pavement. But, till now, we’ve been unable to copy this construction with the supplies accessible to us. Additive manufacturing, a.ok.a. 3D printing, and an modern materials known as liquid crystal elastomers modifications that. Muscular biomimicry is now doable.

helmet engineering

An extended-term topic of investigation by Yakacki and colleagues, liquid crystal elastomers are a rubberized model of the liquid crystal supplies present in LCD TVs and laptop screens. They reply to mild or warmth in a dynamic means just like the way in which that muscle groups work. By utilizing a 3D printer to print this materials in a biomimetic sample that appears just like muscle fibers below a microscope, Yakacki believes it will likely be doable to create the most secure, most shock absorbing-est, helmet but.

“When you see some of these designs, it’ll become immediately apparent that you could never do this with injection molding,” he mentioned. “It’s such an intricate spider web of struts that it could never be machined that way. No mold could be machined that way. It would be literally impossible. Machinists would just laugh you out of the building. Some of our designs just have hundreds of struts, these little interconnected beams. It’s just impossible [without 3D printing].”

The staff has but to publish precise figures about their progress, however Yakacki is optimistic. “I can’t give away too many numbers right now [from our lab],” he mentioned. “But I will say that we’re highly confident that we can hit those improvements on impact.”

Coming to a soccer recreation (and wherever else a helmet is required) close to you, very quickly.

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