A team of U.S. scientists have developed a new microlattice impact attenuator pad to make helmets better at protecting their wearers.
According to the scientists from the University of California Santa Barbara, HRL Laboratories LLC, and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the new device can withstand both single hits and a series of impacts better than existing state-of-the-art foams used in football helmets.
It could ultimately help pave way for more advanced helmets that protect football players and other athletes from brain injuries caused by repeated head hits.
Helmets used in both combat and American football require impact-absorbing materials to protect their wearers against ongoing impacts.
It has however remained difficult to design materials that remain effective over time without compromising on volume, mass, or cost.
No doubt, helmet foams have evolved over the past decades, but such improvements have been relatively marginal.
This is all bound to change, says HRL researcher Eric Clough:
“Our technology could revolutionize football, batting, bicycle, and motorcycle helmets, making them better at protecting the wearer and much easier to have on your head due to the increased airflow.”
According to the scientists, the photopolymer-based microlattice material shares a resemblance to the Eiffel Tower’s famous wrought-iron design.
It is sturdy enough but at the same time allows air to pass through – a property that would keep athletes’ heads cooler than existing helmets.
This structure also makes the material highly adjustable, helping engineers to easily tailor it to absorb different levels and types of shock just by tweaking its components.
The team’s best performing microlattice material has so far absorbed up to 27% more energy from a single impact than the current most effective expanded polystyrene foam.
It can also absorb energy up to 48% more energy efficiently compared to the top vinyl nitrile foam during repeated impacts.
The material has also outperformed competing microlattice designs, absorbing nearly 14% more energy from a single hit and staying intact to absorb the next round of impacts instead of irreversibly buckling after one hit.
Sports technology company VICIS is the first to license the microlattice pad technology through HRL.
Image and content: HRL Laboratories/Cell Press