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Heading Off Trouble

The concussion that sidelined San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith last year brought massive attention to the issue of brain trauma stemming from contact sports. With immediate access to the very best sports trainers and doctors, Smith still ran several plays before leaving the game with blurred vision.

Such incidents have led to concern about standard safety equipment, particularly since studies have made the connection between concussion, dementia, and memory loss. Concerned that there is currently no clear way to detect that a concussion has occurred, computer science and engineering major Kyle Terriere and electrical engineering major Shawno Auwea decided to tackle this issue for their Senior Design project, under the guidance of advisor Sarah Kate Wilson, associate professor of electrical engineering.

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From left, Kyle Terriere and Shawno Auwae
Photo: Able Hsu '14

“The risk of concussions going undetected is magnified at the youth level where appropriate personnel and equipment are not readily available,” said Shawno, “so our team is working to create a device utilizing an accelermometer, microcontroller, wireless communication, and a mobile app, that when inserted in the helmet helps athletes and trainers detect severe head impacts that may result in concussions.” Each helmet fitted with the device will send a unique signal to the app which will store the data over a set period of time, aiding diagnosis and treatment. Coaches or parents will have the ability to set an alert threshold for impacts deemed hazardous and create markers to document where the athlete experienced concussion-like symptoms.

“Our goal is to end up with a product that could be fit into any helmet, encouraging participation in contact sports like football without the fear of long-term consequences. We also hope that our device could be modified for use in other areas where brain damage is a concern, such as the military,” Kyle said.