Constant monitoring of athletes’ physiological signs, some of which could indicate a concussion, on a team-wide scale is now possible with a wireless system engineered at the University of Arkansas. The system, developed by Vijay Varadan and his research team, consists of dry, textile-based nanosensors and an accompanying network. The sensors can detect early signs of brain injury by continuously monitoring neural activity and identifying symptoms such as drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, sensitivity to light, and anxiety.
The system is set up whereby a network of flexible sensors—built with carbon nanotubes and 2D and 3D textile nanostructures—are woven or printed into a skullcap worn under a helmet. The sensors can hold up under stress, high temperatures, and moisture better than printed-circuit-board chips.
Data is wirelessly transmitted from the sensors via ZigBee and Bluetooth to a receiver, and then sent to a wireless network that goes to a remote server or monitor, such as a computer or smartphone. Using a more powerful, wide-area wireless network allows the system to detect large quantities of data taken continuously from each player on the field and transmit it to multiple locations (e.g., a press box, ambulance, hospital).
Specifically, data transmitted by a pressure-sensitive textile sensor, embedded underneath the helmet’s outer shell, records intensity, direction, and location of impact force. Other sensors throughout the skullcap act as an integrated network. For instance, a printable and flexible gyroscope measures rotational motion of the head and body balance, and a printable and flexible 3D accelerometer measures lateral head motion and body balance. Further textile-based dry sensors in the cap read electrical activity in the brain; for example, onset of mild traumatic brain injury. Another sensor detects pulse rate and blood oxygen level.
Moreover, a modified sensor can evaluate damage to nerve tissue caused by force impact and record electrical signals that construct a spatiotemporal image of the brain’s active regions. Low-resolution images can also substitute for conventional neuro-imaging technology, such as MRI and CT scans. Plans are in the works to test the new technology during an actual game this fall.