Changing the game: TI technology creates a new way to identify football concussions

A recurring headline in the United States revolves around sports related concussions, particularly in football. From the pee-wee level all the way to the professional ranks, preventing and treating concussions has become a top priority.

Today, it is standard procedure to do a lengthy sideline concussion test when an athlete takes a big hit to the head, but TI technology could provide the first step in quickly determining if a player actually received a concussion. In collaboration with the University of Texas at Dallas, TI has developed a sensor system small enough to fit behind the ear of an athlete using a small adhesive. In the Fall of 2014, 500-1,000 football players across Dallas will be equipped with the device as part of a trial.

“The sensor tells you when there is an acceleration or deceleration [the rate at which the head moves in a specific direction] of the head. We can measure up to 200 Gs (g-forces) of acceleration or deceleration on these devices,” said Dr. Robert Rennaker, director of the UT Dallas Texas Biomedical Device Center.

 The miniaturized system includes a three-axis accelerometer, which measures acceleration or deceleration, on a circuit board with a TI MSP430™ processor and a small battery.

“Hopefully what we can do is start capturing some of these hard hit events and start determining the types of hits that result in chronic brain injuries. In order to do the kind of studies that we really want to do to prevent injuries, we need to know the kind of impacts that cause injury,” said Robert.

Robert initially brought a series of challenges for the device to TI: It must be ultra-low powered as they run off of a small battery, inexpensive so they can be given to thousands of athletes one day and easy to use so football staff can help gather data. Since there was already a wireless accelerometer project in Kilby Labs Dallas, engineers were able to quickly modify this design to fit Robert’s requirements. Many of the first circuit boards for the device were created by hand in Kilby Labs Dallas by supporting technical engineer Walt Culpepper.

“Not only did he do the actual layout for this product and get them to the size, form factor and cost parameters that were required for this application, he also physically populated the boards,” said Leo Estevez, platform maker at Kilby Labs Dallas.

Walt and Leo used the already developed Kilby Labs sensor software platform and adopted it for this application. The end result was a fully working hardware and software system that will cost about $25 per player.

“TI has the resources to help us develop these technologies and then produce them at a cost that is reasonable to do this kind of research,” said Robert.

The TI sensor is just one part of a three part system Robert is working on to determine concussions and ultimately prevent or treat concussion symptoms and chronic issues. Distributing the device in the Fall is the first step in an attempt to make football at Texas high schools safer. But Robert sees the potential of this device well beyond just the star wide receiver playing on a Friday night in Dallas. He believes the device could be used in youth leagues and by professional football players, in soccer, basketball and even by soldiers on the front lines when they come into contact with an improvised explosive device (IED).