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Cooler Heads Prevail with RFID-enabled Helmets

HotHead Sports is introducing football helmets with integrated temperature sensors and active RFID tags that will alert trainers to possible heat stroke, which has killed 33 players since 2005. The firm is also developing RFID-enabled hardhats and helmets for firefighters and soldiers.
Tags: Sensors
Mar 09, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 9, 2009—Wireless engineer Jay Buckalew blacked out on a hot roof in Puerto Rico while he was installing networking equipment. Soon after he came to, he developed the idea of embedding temperature sensors in hardhats to provide warning of impending heat exhaustion. That idea led to the formation of HotHead Sports, which next month will debut an RFID-enabled football helmet that relays body temperature information to trainers or other staff.

Heat stroke has killed 33 football players (25 high school, five college, two professional and one recreational) players since 2005, according to the Annual Survey of Football Injuries study produced by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

"After the episode in Puerto Rico I wanted to see if you could develop temperature sensors in hardhats for industrial environments," Buckalew told RFID Update. "After studying the situation, it became apparent that sports and firefighting were the markets to get into. Our football helmet launches first, but we think we'll make the greatest impact in public safety and the military."

HotHead Sports will officially release its first temperature monitoring helmet system in April. It includes a temperature sensor on the helmet padding that connects by a thin wire to an active RFID tag, handheld computers with integrated RFID readers and software that issues alerts for high temperature readings plus a database that can store the player's historical temperature readings, medical history, emergency contact information and other data.

HotHead sports is a 2.5-year-old startup headquartered in Atlanta. It has deals with Schutt Sports, the world's leading football helmet manufacturer, and Riddell, another leading provider.

HotHead is offering its sensing system for $99 per player per year, which includes the cost of the RFID tags and sensors, readers and software, but not a helmet. The temperature sensors and RFID tags can be retrofit into reconditioned helmets or manufactured into new ones.

The system features active RFID tags from IDENTEC Solutions and handheld computers with integrated readers from PsionTeklogix. Buckalew began working with IDENTEC soon after developing his concept.

"From my wireless background, I knew that RFID was growing in the industrial space. We wanted to carry that into sports," Buckalew said. "We wanted to take advantage of developments in RFID to improve safety. There was a lot of engineering and development required. The original tag was hard plastic and about the size of a candy bar."

HotHead and IDENTEC worked with GE Sensing and Cavist, an injection molding manufacturer, to develop a compact, flexible design for the temperature sensor and RFID tag. The current product (pictured) weighs just half an ounce. HotHead plans to develop versions that include an accelerometer sensor that will measure the force of impact absorbed.

HotHead also hopes to release military and firefighter temperature-sensing helmets soon. Both versions are currently undergoing field testing. The original product idea -- RFID-enabled hardhats -- may take the longest to bring to market because many safety and environmental regulations must be satisfied, according to Buckalew.

"Football is important to us, but participation in football is voluntary," Buckalew said. "Firefighting and military activities are not voluntary. We look forward to taking advantage of RFID to improve safety in these and other environments.

"The biggest thing right now is to get the word out," he continued. "RFID is a viable technology and it isn't going away. There are a lot of ways it can improve safety, we just need to make people aware of it."
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