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Upgraded helmets hit the NFL this season, aiming to reduce on-field concussions

With another season starting, the NFL has made a change to the helmets that will be worn on the field this year.

A startup company based in Seattle called VICIS has introduced their new helmet, called the ZERO1, set to make its premier on the field this NFL season, complete with re-designed team logos. The helmet has been tested on the field for the last year by various players across the NFL and it returned with top ratings.

The goal set by VICIS when they first started designing the helmet back in 2013 was to create a helmet that looked like a traditional football helmet but functioned much differently. The redesign stops relying on the hard-hat-like function of traditional helmets, which are typically made of two layers: the outer, hard-shell layer and an inner layer of padding which creates some semblance of comfort for the player wearing the helmet. Instead, it relies on the internal structure of the helmet to act much like a car bumper does on impact, and folds to accommodate and redirect the force applied to the helmet.

The major change is that the new VICIS ZERO1 helmet is made up of multiple components. This allows the helmet to account for rotational impact as well as linear impact. Rotational impact, or the twisting motion that follows a run-in with another player or helmet, is the major perpetrator in concussions or impact-related head trauma.

The inner layer, called the arch shell layer, is a hard-plastic layer that rests against the wearer’s skull. The arch shell is lined by a form liner, which acts like memory foam and conforms to the wearers head. This function helps to keep the player’s head snug while moving, and provides comfort.

Another update is the addition of two more chin straps, and the adjustable strap attachments for increased player comfort. Two of the four straps fasten directly onto the inner shell to channel and diffuse some of the energy that flows along the jaw during impact. The straps are easy to remove in the case of injury but stay put when on the field.

The main construction difference between the traditional helmets and the ZERO1 helmet is within the helmet itself. The body of the helmet is lined with vertically laying ‘struts’ which act to absorb and redistribute the force of an impact. Another major change is that the outer shell is no longer made of the hard plastic of traditional helmets. The outer shell is being made with a forgiving plastic that can bounce back into shape, which allows the force of a collision to be diffused much more efficiently.

VICIS received approximately $15 million in funding to pursue the development of this helmet. On the team are multiple engineers and neurosurgeons who are dedicated to lessening the severity of concussions, or preventing them fully, through their technology. VICIS aims to reduce the amount of concussions in the NFL by half of the current amount, 281 in the 2017-2018 season, to make the game safer for all the athletes involved. The NFL supported the development of VICIS’ technology and granted $500,000 towards the development of a safer helmet for all 32 teams to use.

While the helmet has performed well on the NFL field, it might be a while before it shows up in other levels of football, such as at the collegiate or high-school level. Currently you can purchase a ZERO1 from VICIS for $950.

Despite the steep pricing, many programs are seeking to introduce these safer helmets into more common use. More than 100 NCAA programs are trying to provide these helmets to collegiate athletes, and around 1,000 high school programs are willing to look into ways of providing the ZERO1 for their teams.

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