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RFID Helps NOCSAE Study Youth Football Helmets

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment employed EPC Gen 2 passive tags and readers to track the headgear retrieved from youth football groups, in order to carry out tests.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 31, 2013The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing safety standards related to helmets and other equipment, has been employing an RFID-based solution to track football helmets as they are retrieved from local youth football organizations to be tested or refurbished, with an end goal of helping to prevent head injuries for young athletes.

NOCSAE is carrying out the testing on behalf of a consortium of athletic and safety associations. The group’s members include not only NOCSAE, but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Football League, USA Football, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) and helmet makers Rawlings, Riddell, Schutt and Xenith.

The technology, provided by Santa Barbara, Calif., company Serialio.com (pronounced serial IO), consists of passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and readers, as well as software to manage the collected read data. NOCSAE used the technology throughout the summer of 2012, to track which helmets were collected by its service providers (helmet-refurbishing companies), and to identify the headgear when NOCSAE later retrieved it for testing.

NOCSAE and several university researchers are currently in the process of investigating how well helmets in use by young athletes meet its standards for protecting them from concussions as they play football. According to Michael Oliver, the organization's executive director and general counsel, the premise that NOCSAE is testing is that the older helmets may not meet its standards, and thus would not provide proper protection against head injuries during football games and practices.


Refurbishing companies attached an Alien Technology RFID tag to each helmet's exterior, and read the tag using a Serialio reader connected, via Bluetooth, to a cell phone.


In 2012, the consortium had launched a program in which they offered to replace helmets for youth football clubs in disadvantaged regions, provided that the headgear was more than 10 years old. In its first year, the program was piloted in four markets: the California Bay Area, Gulf Coast region, northern Ohio and the tri-state region around New York City. NOCSAE hired helmet reconditioning and refurbishing businesses to retrieve the headgear, inspect it and store it for NOCSAE, which would later run tests on some of those helmets, as part of its study.

The research project required a database that could record details regarding each individual helmet, Oliver says, as well as make it easy for NOCSAE to later locate that helmet. He determined that RFID would be the best solution for such a venture, since the technology could not only enable a user equipped with a handheld reader to identify each helmet, but would also make a particular helmet easy to later locate using a Geiger-counter mode on the handheld reader.

Serialio provided seven of its Scanfob handhelds (manufactured by Tertium Technology), and its MobileGrid software solution, says Dave Boydston, Serialio's president. Upon picking up the helmets, the refurbishing companies transported them to their own facilities, attached an Alien Technology adhesive tag (measuring 3 inches by 1 inch) to each helmet's exterior, and read the tag using the Serialio interrogator. That data was then transmitted, via a Bluetooth connection, to a mobile phone and back to a server. At the end of the day, the information was updated on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet in which each helmet's make, model, manufacturing date and RFID number were stored, along with data indicating who had possession of the helmet.

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