MEMS and Concussions

By Karen Lightman, Managing Director, MEMS Industry Group

I am a mom, first and foremost. Right now I am an angry mom, because I have a daughter with a concussion, caused by an accident that was no fault of her own. And because I am a mom who works with MEMS
(MicroElectroMechanicalSystems), I have started thinking about how MEMS might have prevented, as well as detected her concussion sooner.

First let me back up and tell you the story of what happened because I think it’ll help you understand my frustration. I have been a skier most of my life, and since we started skiing as a family three years ago, my two girls (ages eight and 11) have become great skiers, practicing safe and controlled skiing. And yes, the whole family wears helmets.

Recently we went skiing in Western PA. And while I will spare you the gruesome details, as you can see from the picture I am sharing with you, our ski trip did not end well. Basically my eight-year-old daughter was hit by the equivalent of a 225-pound out-of-control freight train on skis, as he snowballed down the mountain and took out my daughter. Now my daughter has near-constant headaches, is tired most of the day, can’t read without pain and will likely miss up to a month of school.

Ski patrol did a good job of assessing her on the mountain, and on the day of the collision she showed no signs of concussion. Her symptoms only started the next day when she fell asleep in class ten minutes into the school day. Only later did I learn that this is quite common, complicating the detection and diagnosis of concussion. In fact there is a lot of confusion when it comes to concussion and that’s what got me thinking about MEMS in many ways.

Accident Prevention – MEMS Motion Sensors

First I started thinking about the idiots that caused the accident. (There were two of them who collided and then one took out my daughter.) With MEMS motion sensor technology like that developed by Xsens and Movea, I envision myself as “vigilante ski mom” seeing lunatic skiers or inebriated skiers. When I see them, I would tag them with a motion sensor that can recognize gestures and would wirelessly send data to ski patrolalerting them when the skier is exhibiting inexperienced skier gestures and on a double-black diamond.

Watch this Xsens video to get a sense of what I am talking about. Then watchthis video of Movea’s motion sensor technology featured by Venture Beat at CES to see why I think this could work – maybe even by putting sensors into ski lift tickets. Think about it, when you buy a lift ticket, you agree to the “skier responsibility code” – which means you will ski at your level and won’t mow down other skiers; MEMS technology developed by Movea and Xsens could help enforce it.

Concussion Detection and MEMS 3-Axis, High-G MEMS Accelerometers

Then I rememberedthe fantastic panel I moderated at Design West 2012 that featured one of my favorite MEMS gurus, Rob O’Reilly of Analog Devices. Rob played a pivotal role in the Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) System with ADI accelerometers inside, used to record on-field head impact exposure during helmeted activities, part of anongoing study with the National Institutes of Health that began in 2002. The work that Rob and his colleagues at Analog did to better understand the impact on the head (not just to the helmet) has led to changes in many sports including hockey, lacrosse and football as well as legislative changes for states such as Massachusetts. But the challenge is still diagnosing concussionafter the hit.

And here’s a not-so-fun fact:  Did you know that after football players, girls’ soccer players are second most likely to get concussions? I am not sure how we’re going to help those soccer players, but with enough industry ingenuity, I am hopeful that we will figure something out.

So again I go to MEMS to help detect a “concussion-worthy hit to the head.” Thankfully there are a few examples where we are seeing an adoption of MEMS technology in sports equipment, including football helmets and mouthguards,such as X2 Impact and i1 Biometrics.The I1 Biometrics’mouthguard is state-of-the-art because it provides a “solution from inside the players head from the inside out” through a multi-function approach: impact detection; data transition; notification and alerts (straight to mom’s smartphone);  and the athlete assessment, by which the system provides tools to assess the athlete’s ability to return to play in a game (or ski). Assessment of injury, post-impact is really critical, but you need to have a baseline upon which to compare it in order to really determine the damage to the brain.

Baseline assessment is key, and fortunately live minutes away from a world-class concussion center, theUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Sports Medicine Concussion Program; these are the guys who took care of the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby when he had his concussion two years ago. The UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program pioneered ImPACT™ (Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing)–“the mostwidely used neurocognitive testnow mandated by the NFL, NHL, and roughly 6,000 high schools and colleges in the United States.”My daughter is now under treatment by these guys and had a baseline ImPACT test.This is important because statistically she is now more likely to get another concussion and it’ll help us track her progress as she regains her brain function.

Now it’s Your Turn

But isn’t a shame she had the concussion in the first place and that it was untreated until 24 hours after the accident? I just keep thinking that with MEMS technologies I’ve described in this blog, that NEXT TIME a similar situation might not result in another concussion. So I encourage you to visit the hyperlinks in this blog – do the research – mine that swath of land that is an opportunity to help find ways to use MEMS’ enabling technology to embed it into ski tickets or workout gear or ski helmets.Let’s reduce the chance of injury in skiing or other sports you love; especially for children. Let’s reduce the chance of freight-trains taking out eight-year olds on ski mountains, and let’s improve the world through MEMS. Let’s find ways, through MEMS to prevent injuries and then once in an accident to assess and detect injuries much faster and accurately.Will you join me?


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