HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — The Washington Huskies will be one of the first football teams to wear what coach Chris Petersen is calling a new “state of the art” helmet designed by Seattle startup Vicis, whose mission is to reduce the risk of concussions.
“All the testing, all the speculation (suggest that) there’s nothing like it on the market,” Petersen said. “You’re not going to take concussions out of the game with any sort of helmet, but we do think — from what we’ve been told and what we’ve seen and what’s out there — it’ll be the safest helmet on the market.”
The helmets cost an estimated $1,500 each, and the plan is for UW players to use only one helmet all season — for practices and games. In recent years, the Huskies have used four different helmets for games and another one for practices.
The University of Washington, awarded a $2.5 million grant from the NFL last year for concussion research, has been at the cutting edge of concussion research, so it’s fitting that the UW football team will be among the first to test out the new helmet. UW professor Per Reinhall co-founded Vicis with neurosurgeon Dr. Samuel Browd and Dave Marver, the company’s CEO.
Petersen and his coaching staff have already been at the forefront in promoting a rugby-tackling technique that has gained in popularity across the sport. He says the improved helmets are “another piece to the puzzle” to make the game safer.
Vicis’ Zero1 helmet is being released to a limited number of college and NFL teams this year, with a plan to distribute it more broadly next year, Marver said at the GeekWire Sports Tech Summit earlier this week in Seattle.
Vicis’ helmet is modeled after automotive designs. Here’s what The Seattle Times’ Sandi Doughton wrote about it in March:
Car bumpers are built to crumple and absorb the force of a collision, which helps protect passengers, Browd explained. Vicis’ Zero1 helmet does the same thing, with a flexible outer shell over a layer of flexible polymer columns. Deliver a blow, and those outer layers deform — absorbing energy — then spring back. A stiff inner shell cradles the player’s head.
Because the flexible columns can move in all directions, Browd says, the system is better at buffering off-center blows that cause the brain to rotate inside the skull. Most experts believe those kinds of glancing hits are more likely to cause a concussion than head-on, linear forces.
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, who is featured on the Vicis website, was one of the first players to try on the new helmet.
“He put it on and didn’t say anything for about 30 seconds, and we were all thinking: ‘Oh, he doesn’t like it,’ ” Browd told Doughton. “Then he said: ‘This is the most comfortable helmet I’ve ever worn.’ ”