Wearable Helmet Tech Could Improve Horseback Rider Safety

POSTED ON  |  03-04-2021

Wearable helmet sensors
You’ve heard of pressure mats for your horse’s back under a saddle. But what about a pressure “mat” for your head? Riders get lots of pressure—and sometimes, not enough—under their helmets. A new sensor cap designed just for helmet wearers is giving feedback that could not only improve fit but also lead to better diagnostics and treatment when riders fall.“There are millions of concussions every year (in a variety of sports), and many of these people were wearing helmets,” said Massood Z. Atashbar, PhD, director of the Center for Advanced Smart Sensors and Structures in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo. “We hope our device can have a positive impact by saving lives and improving quality of life (for injured athletes).”

Their device is a soft, flexible, sensor-filled cap that riders can wear under their helmets. Developed by Atashbar and his colleagues, the cap includes 16 pressure sensors that provide a “map” of pressure across the head under the helmet. The goal, he said, was twofold: increase the protective quality of helmets by helping improve fit, and in the event of accidents guide medical personnel to precise details about the head injury.

“The main objective of wearing a helmet is to protect the head, mainly by absorbing shock,” Atashbar said. “But if the helmet doesn’t fit properly, especially if it’s too loose, then it can’t do the job right. The problem is a lot of people don’t like a fit helmet; they want it loose.”

People shouldn’t wear helmets that are too tight either, though. What they need, he said, is a helmet that fits their heads (much like horses need a saddle that fits their backs)—but it’s not always easy to figure out how. “That’s why we started to work on this,” Atashbar told The Horse. Over the past three years, he and his team, co-led by doctoral student Simin Masihi, developed a 1-millimeter-thick cap packed full of valuable—and highly informative—pressure technology. “It can pinpoint which areas of the helmet are loose, where you need more cushioning or more inflated shock absorbers to get a proper fit,” he said.

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