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Georgia High School Football Teams Put RFID Into Play

With the ultimate goal of preventing heatstroke, the teams have been testing helmets containing Hothead RFID-enabled temperature sensors.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 20, 2009Atlanta-area high school football teams have completed trials of a helmet containing built-in RFID-enabled heat sensors that transmit a player's body temperature to coaches and trainers on the field. All five football teams, which have asked to remain unnamed, intend to permanently deploy the system when it becomes commercially available next month, according to Jay Buckalew, CEO of Hothead Technologies, which developed the system. In addition, the system is undergoing a second phase of study by independent researchers at Georgia's Kennesaw State University, in which subjects' core temperatures are compared against helmet temperature sensor data and transmitted to a handheld interrogator.

The objective of the technology is to protect athletes from heat stroke. Football coaches and certified athletic trainers currently have no sure way of determining when a player may be overheated. Symptoms of overheating include confusion, dizziness, headaches and nausea, but in some cases, players suffering from the condition might be entirely asymptomatic. For those playing in hot climates, such as in the southern United States, Puerto Rico, and Central and South America, the risk of heat stroke is higher and can be deadly. High school athletes are the most vulnerable, because so many are out on the playing field, with very few coaches or athletic trainers to keep an eye on their behavior or health condition.

Hothead Technologies' CEO, Jay Buckalew, holds one of the system's RFID tags wired to a temperature sensor.

The solution, tested this year by Georgia high school coaches and currently being researched at Kennesaw University, offers coaches and trainers their first automated look into the condition of each player. Hothead's Heat Observation Technology (HOT) system consists of a temperature sensor, made by General Electric's GE Sensing division, wired to an Identec Solutions battery-powered 915 MHz RFID transponder.

The sensor tags are embedded in the padded interior of football helmets made by Schutt, Riddell and Adams. The sensor is installed so that it makes contact with the skin over an artery on a player's temple. When the athlete dons the helmet, its sensor begins measuring the wearer's temperature. The transponder then transmits that data, along with the transponder's unique ID number, every five seconds. A Psion Teklogix Workabout Pro II handheld computer with a built-in RFID reader can receive and store that information from a tag up to 325 feet away. If the temperature rises above a predetermined threshold over the course of several transmissions, Hothead software, installed in the handheld reader, creates an alert to notify the trainer or coach on the sidelines.

The unique ID number of the helmet's sensor tag is linked to a specific player in the Hothead software. In that way, the Workabout Pro II displays the name of the player who may have overheated. The coach or trainer responding to the alert must press a prompt on the device to indicate he has received and is responding to that warning. Once the helmet is removed, the sensor detects a quick drop in temperature, and the system deduces that the player is no longer wearing the helmet and, thus, no longer physically exerting himself.

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