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Wrestler-Turned-Entrepreneur Launches Concussion Tracker

An injury sustained during a wrestling match led a young MIT graduate to develop a concussion-tracking system that leverages the Internet of Things.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Inside the Jolt sensing unit are two accelerometers. One, which measures high g-force impacts, is linked to a second accelerometer that quantifies softer hits to the wearer's head. This second accelerometer is important, Harvatine notes, because over time, a series of low g-force impacts could potentially cause permanent injury to the brain. Both accelerometers are connected to an onboard processor than manages energy use—when and how the device changes from sleep mode to active use—in order to extend battery life.

The unit contains a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (as well as a port for a micro USB charger) and a low-energy Bluetooth transceiver, which forwards the impact data, along with a unit identifier associated with the player's name, to a smartphone application that then uploads the data to cloud servers via the Internet. The collected data is stored in the cloud, where it is compiled into a database containing the athlete's history of head impacts, as registered on the Jolt sensor. The player's physician can be provided with access to this injury history, as well as the results of his or her cognitive tests. The Bluetooth link is reliable up to a distance of approximately 100 meters (328 feet), Harvatine reports. Data that is not successfully received by the smartphone is stored on the Jolt sensor, which automatically attempts to upload that information to the cell phone with which it is paired, once it is back in range.

Ben Harvatine
If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, Harvatine says, and if he and Berg advance their sensor from the hand-built prototype to a manufactured product, the Jolt system is expected to retail for $100 (though early Kickstarter backers are receiving a $20 discount).

Helmets designed for football and other high-impact sports, such as ice hockey and field hockey, are now available with embedded or after-market impact sensors, built to track severe impacts and transmit the data wirelessly to coaches. Riddell and CCM, manufacturers of helmets for the National Football League and the National Hockey League, respectively, are building sensor technology into offerings for professional athletes, as well as for high school and collegiate teams.

In fact, Harvatine says, there are 15 existing impact-sensor products already on the market that are designed for athletes. Still, he notes, the Jolt is unique because it can be used for a range of sports. The sensor's electronic workings are encased in flexible rubber and are joined to a small plastic clip—the entire device is smaller than a book of matches—that athletes can attach to a headband, a hat, a helmet or wrestling headgear. "I was a multi-sport athlete as a kid," Harvatine recalls. "Back then, I would have wanted something I could take off my baseball cap and put on my wrestling headgear."

Harvatine says his research shows a potential market of 24 million youth athletes in the United States, ranging from kindergarten to grade 12, who are at a high concussion risk because they play such contact sports as football, hockey, wrestling and soccer, and are thus potential users. In addition, there are between 10 and 15 million participants in snow sports, including skiing and snowboarding, who could benefit from the technology as well.

"After we reach our Kickstarter goal, we hope to move into brick-and-mortar store sales," Harvatine states. "One day, I expect the Jolt sensor is something you'll be able to buy as easily as a helmet and shin guards."

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