Football helmets for soldiers

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Published November 26, 2012

| FoxNews.com

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Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center has been studying University of Southern Mississippi football helmet technology to investigate its potential for protecting soldiers from brain injury. 

The liner, designed to minimize the impact of collisions on the gridiron, received a five-star safety rating for football helmets. Since soldiers and athletes are equally vulnerable to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), the military and sports find themselves on the same team.

A mild TBI is a treatable brain injury that requires prompt treatment, making early detection very important. In today’s warfare, blasts, blows to the head or vehicle collisions on the battlefield may cause them.

In the past eleven years, there have been about 244,000 cases of TBI in personnel according to the Department of Defense. There are about 1.7 million diagnosed cases of TBI each year in the United States alone -- and an additional one million cases that are undiagnosed.

Recently on Capitol Hill, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III appeared with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the joint initiative.

"All of us are working cooperatively to make a difference to address this issue, to make it safer for not only our troops but for sports in general and society in general," Goodell said.

The University of Southern Mississippi School of Polymers and High Performance Materials teamed up with the sports medicine department to develop a novel pneumatic liner approach for helmets.

Rawlings Sporting Goods uses this tech in the Neuro Responsive Gear unveiled in August 2010, a helmet now used in college football and the National Football League. It combines a layer of foam with pneumatic cushioning made of pressurized “air bladders” to better absorb impacts.

The soft, low energy foam is like what you would find in couches and lounge chairs. It will conform to head shapes and withstand minor dings. In a high velocity impact, this top layer compresses into the pneumatic cushion system and the secondary layer of “air bladders” takes over and absorbs the impact.

In this layer, air pressure travels providing support in various areas of the helmet in reaction to the high impact location.

The polymer bladder system is designed to maintain its air pressure indefinitely so that it will not start to go flat.

Because the University of Southern Mississippi liner system uses different air-filled chambers, it has possible advantages that other pneumatic systems lacked.

For military applications, their approach could be useful for example with night vision devices.  The weight of the device would push the air out of the front bag in the helmet and shift it to the bags in the back providing more stability.

Today, approximately 40 professional and college teams are using the helmet.

Soldiers with questions about TBI can find information on www.nfl.com/military.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.

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