April 14, 2014
Should a helmet have a brain?

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.56.35 AM

Photo: Iowa Public Radio

A helmet protects a brain – your brain, my brain, any brain.  Yet in the era of smart phones, smart cities, and smart appliances, is it time for smart helmets?

Shawn Cornally is a headmaster at The Big Idea Group, a secondary-school program in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Cornally wants students to practice science and math, not just learn them.  Cornally guides students in using open-source technology tools like Arduino – programmable computer boards – to make new gadgets for solving real problems.

One of Cornally’s eighth grade students created an Arduino board that attaches to the back of a bicycle helmet to detect concussions.  The programmed board is attached to an accelerometer that detects speed, and can sense how fast the helmet gets jolted, or stopped, which in turn can indicate a concussion by lighting up red.

A variety of these types of detection devices especially for football helmets, are already on the market.  One drawback is that the smarter helmets get, the more expensive they become.  On the other hand, knowing there’s a chance a helmeted brain has had a concussion is invaluable. There still isn’t a definitive test – such as a blood test – to show if a person has suffered one, and not returning to sports until symptoms of concussion have truly subsided is key for everyone who loves their brain.

What’s your take: should a helmet have a (programmable) brain?