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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
The Hothead technology was initially conceived as an early-warning system for utility workers or others who work in hot climates while wearing hard hats. Approximately one year ago, Hothead and Identec began developing the system with football helmets as the first application. Although the system could be utilized by firefighters, police and military personnel, as well as by utility workers, Buckalew says football seemed a good place for the technology to begin. "With football," he notes, "we felt we could make the greatest impact most quickly."

Making a transponder that would fit the helmet, accommodate the temperature sensor and sustain the rigors of football required some creative design work, says Peter Linke, Identec's president and CEO. "Football is one of the highest-impact activities there is," he states. "Getting any electronic device to work in that environment is challenging. We had to come up with a whole different housing to make it impact-resistant, and to fit it into a helmet. It had to be smaller, thinner, with a different battery and antenna, and it had to have an interface for the temperature sensor." The tag also needed to be able to transmit reliably on the field, in any weather, from fast-moving players.

Following the first phase of testing at Kennesaw State University, the technology is proving to work effectively, according to Laurie Tis, the college's associate dean and the leader of the research project testing Hothead's technology. In December 2008, the research team tested the system on five subjects. During the trial, temperature data from rectal probes were sent via a Wi-Fi transmission while the Hothead sensor readings from the helmet worn by the same subject were simultaneously transmitted via RFID. The resulting temperature differentials were compared in order to determine whether the Hothead sensors had been providing accurate temperature readings, as well as whether the RFID transponders had transmitted reliably.

The college research team has yet to test the system on a football field, Tis says, but the researchers—who tested it in a basement laboratory—found that the sensors measured the temperatures accurately and the tags transmitted reliably. They also found that the software accurately displayed the sensor results. Hothead has received the results of the first phase of the testing, he adds, noting, "The data is extremely tight. I think it's a good product, and the technology is very well built. They've done a lot of good work in research and development."

The research team is now studying the system in phase two with 30 subjects, Tis says, using the same testing methods. The results of the second phase of testing will be made public in approximately 12 months, he estimates.

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