As part of the NFL’s Play Smart. Play Safe. initiative, the NFL allocated $60 million toward the creation and funding of the Engineering Roadmap. It’s a comprehensive effort—funded by the NFL and managed by Football Research, Inc. (FRI)—to improve the understanding of the biomechanics of head injuries in professional football and to create incentives for helmet manufacturers, small businesses, entrepreneurs, universities and others to develop and commercialize new and improved protective equipment, including helmets.

Click here to download a PDF version of the NFL Engineering Roadmap Factsheet.

DRIVEN BY EXPERTS: BIOMECHANICAL ENGINEERS

Football Research, Inc. (FRI), a nonprofit corporation formed and financially supported by the NFL, manages the Engineering Roadmap. The Board of Directors includes leading engineers and experts who advise FRI on how best to achieve the goal of advancing the understanding of biomechanics in football and creating an environment where new and improved protective equipment will be developed. Jeff Crandall, Ph.D., chairman of the NFL Engineering Committee, serves a leading role in managing the Engineering Roadmap. Dr. Crandall is the Nancy and Neal Wade Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Virginia and Principal Scientist and Consultant at Biocore, LLC. The Board also works closely with Dr. Kristy Arbogast and Dr. Barry Myers, consultants to the NFL Players Association, who are co-leads on essential elements of the Engineering Roadmap.

RESEARCH: MEASURING THE ON-FIELD ENVIRONMENT AND SHARING TOOLS

As part of the Engineering Roadmap, biomechanical engineers completed a comprehensive video review of all reported concussions sustained in NFL games over the past three seasons to better understand concussion-causing impacts. The data is shared widely with helmet manufacturers, designers, innovators, entrepreneurs, universities and others to stimulate new ideas and designs for protective equipment. FRI has also collaborated with university partners to develop new tools to encourage innovation and advance equipment design, including finite element models of modern football helmets, impact test dummy components and test conditions simulating on-field impacts.

EDUCATION: EXPERTS AND INNOVATORS LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER

Experts share the latest knowledge regarding the causes of concussion in professional football, including the best tools available for assessing and optimizing the design and manufacturing of protective equipment. These discussions are an important step to educating and creating incentives for those in the marketplace to design and manufacture protective equipment that performs better than current models. Periodic symposia, webinars and other educational efforts allow experts to share the most up-to-date biomechanical and biomedical information.

CROWDSOURCING: HeadHealthTECH CHALLENGES OFFER INCENTIVES FOR INNOVATORS AND ENTREPRENEURS

The NFL and FRI created the HeadHealthTECH Challenges, which are attracting innovative grant proposals from institutions, individuals and corporations that are interested in designing the next generation of protective equipment. The TECH Challenges are structured to stimulate research and innovation, as well as encourage connections with mentors and/or venture capitalists, with the goal of spurring developments in engineering, biomechanics, advanced sensors and material science. The TECH Challenges are operated and managed by Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (Duke CTSI), which provides constructive feedback for all applicants.

Thus far, the NFL and FRI have awarded grants totaling more than $1.6 million to 13 winners to support product development for innovative protective equipment concepts.

TECH CHALLENGE I WINNERS

Winners included VyaTek Sports for its highly efficient energy-absorbing Zorbz technology and Guardian Innovations for its Guardian Cap technology—a soft helmet cover designed to reduce the severity of impacts.

TECH CHALLENGE II WINNERS

Winners included 2ND Skull, to research the effectiveness of its 2nd Skull® skull cap in reducing impact forces and developing a second-generation version; Baytech Products, for its prototype HitGard® multicomponent helmet system concept; and Windpact, for its Crash Cloud™, an impact liner system using restricted air flow and foam in helmets and protective gear.

TECH CHALLENGE III WINNERS

Winners included Impressio, Inc. to support development and testing of its ultra-dissipative padding made from liquid-crystal elastomers; HRL Laboratories, LLC to support development and testing of its novel impact-attenuating pads for football helmets; and AES Research & Design for testing of its anti-rotational kinematic helmet prototype.

TECH CHALLENGE IV WINNERS

Winners included FieldTurf Inc. to develop technology for an all-new sports surface designed to reduce impact; Corsair Innovations, Inc. to continue to test its FEAM material, an impact attenuation system for helmets; and Yobel Technologies, LLC to support testing of its energy-absorbent prototyped faceguard.

TECH CHALLENGE V WINNER

Winner was Cardiff University to advance their padding material, designed using complex computer simulations to achieve optimal performance, and their 3D printing materials and technologies, to manufacture helmet liner pads intended to achieve more effective cushioning during collisions.

TECH CHALLENGE VI WINNERS

Winners included Windpact to tailor their Crash Cloud™ padding technology for use in Schutt’s AirXP Pro Q10 helmet; and Auxadyne to advance its XPF material, the world’s only commercially available auxetic foam.