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WMU students launch SafeSense Technologies with impact sensor

Helmet product is designed to measure concussive blows on gridiron and battlefield.

August 22, 2014
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Sai Guruva R. Avuthu, left, and Binu Baby Narakathu are two of the four WMU graduate students working on the new technology. Courtesy WMU

An innovative pressure sensor developed by West Michigan University graduate students can now detect concussive head trauma, with applications both on the playing field and in the battlefield.

Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo announced last month that four engineering graduate students are seeking financial support for their entrepreneurial business SafeSense Technologies LLC for an impact-sensing device that can monitor severity and location of head trauma, such as concussions in football athletes.

The four graduate students, who represent the fields of electrical engineering and chemical and printing engineering, are: Sai Guruva R. Avuthu, Ali Eshkeiti, Michael James Joyce and Binu Baby Narakathu. After two years of developing the impact sensor and receiving positive feedback after being among the top eight finalists at an entrepreneurial training competition in February, the team decided to pursue the creation of a business for the product.

Eshkeiti, an electrical engineering student, said working on the project was a new experience in terms of the business angle.

“It was very new for us because we’re from the engineering side. We didn’t know anything about business, how to talk about the product, or what kind of words we should use,” said Eshkeiti. “Football concussions are a very hot topic nowadays. Our application would be able to store or log that data so the doctor can retrieve past impacts and do their treatment accordingly.”

The pressure-sensing technology was manufactured using printed electronics; its applications range from detecting concussive blows to the impact of a bomb and other types of head trauma. With wireless technology, such as Bluetooth to a smartphone, the sensor can relay data from the football player’s helmet to a team leader, and the severity of each blow can be stored on a server.

Massood Atashbar, professor of electrical and computer engineering and faculty advisor of the project, said the device would eliminate the possibility of inaccuracies from field judgments made by coaches, who rely on the self-assessment or self-reporting of players.

“The players, because of the pressure, try to ignore the injury they have endured and continue playing,” said Atashbar in the press release. “The coach would receive real-time, actionable information when one of the players receives a potentially dangerous and serious impact to the head.”

The Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention produced an NCAA Sport Injury fact sheet in collaboration with the NCAA and STOP Sports Injuries organizations for collegiate football players. Using data from the 2004 to 2009 seasons, Datalys noted concussions made up 7.4 percent of the more than 41,000 injuries during the time frame.

Available either as an add-on for an existing helmet or embedded in a helmet by the manufacturer before purchase, the flexible plastic supporting material can be placed in a football helmet, but additional research and development still is needed before the product is ready for market.

“We believed we had a niche technology and that we should establish a company, so we did,” said Atashbar in the release. “We are very excited. We think that we have an enabling technology that I personally expect can lead to a very usable product fairly soon.”

The team at SafeSense Technologies initially is seeking investor and grant funding in order to complete the remaining R&D steps to bring their product to market. After it is fully developed, the students hope to gain support from a venture capitalist or an angel investor.

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