Home » David Camarillo: Is It Possible to Build a Smart Helmet and Prevent Concussions? at TEDxStanford (Transcript)

David Camarillo: Is It Possible to Build a Smart Helmet and Prevent Concussions? at TEDxStanford (Transcript)

But in all seriousness, this principle does work, but this has gone too far. This isn’t something that’s practical for bike riding or playing football, and so we are collaborating with a company in Sweden called Hövding. Some of you may have seen their work, and they’re using the same principle of air to give you some extra space to prevent concussion. Kids, don’t try this at home please. This stuntman does not have a helmet. He instead has a neck collar, and this neck collar has sensors in it, the same type of sensors that are in our mouthguard, and it detects when he’s likely to have a fall, and there’s an airbag that explodes and triggers, the same way that an airbag works in your car, essentially. And in the experiments we’ve done in my lab with their device, we found that it can greatly reduce the risk of concussion in some scenarios compared to a normal bicycle helmet.

So it’s a pretty exciting development, but in order for us to actually realize the benefits of technology that can prevent concussion, it needs to meet regulations. That’s a reality, and this device is for sale in Europe but is not for sale in the US, and probably won’t be any time soon.

So I wanted to tell you why. There are some good reasons and then there are some not so good reasons. Bike helmets are federally regulated. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been given jurisdiction to approve any bike helmet for sale, and this is the test they use. This is back to what I was telling you at the beginning about skull fracture. That’s what this test is for. And that’s an important thing to do. It can save your life, but it’s not sufficient, I would say.

So for example, one thing this test doesn’t evaluate is it doesn’t tell you is that airbag going to trigger at the right time and place, and not trigger when it doesn’t need to? Similarly, it’s not going to tell you is this helmet likely to prevent concussion or not? And if you look at football helmets, which aren’t regulated, they still have a very similar test. They’re not regulated by the government, anyway. They have an industry body, which is the way most industries work. But this industry body, I can tell you, has been quite resistant to updating their standards.

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So in my lab, we are working on not only the mechanism of concussion, but we want to understand how can we have better test standards? And we hope that the government can use this type of information to encourage innovation by letting consumers know how protected are you with a given helmet. And I want to bring this back finally to the original question I asked, which is, would I feel comfortable letting my child play football or ride a bicycle? And this might be just a result of my own traumatic experience. I’m much more nervous about my daughter Rose riding a bicycle. So she’s a year and a half old, and she’s already, well, wants to anyway, race down the streets of San Francisco. This is the bottom of one of these streets.

And so my personal goal is to — and I believe this is possible — is to further develop these technologies, and in fact, we’re working on something in my lab in particular that really makes optimal use of the given space of the helmet, and I am confident that we will be able to, before she’s ready to ride a two-wheeler, have something available that can in fact really reduce the risk of concussion and comply with regulatory bodies. And so what I’d like to do — and I know that this is for some of you of more immediate nature, I’ve got a couple years here — is to be able to tell parents and grandparents when I’m asked, it is safe and healthy for your children to engage in these activities.

And I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful team at Stanford that’s working hard on this. So I hope to come back in a few years with the final story, but for now I will tell you, please don’t just be afraid when you hear the word concussion. There is hope. Thank you.

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