In the past half decade, the National Football League and football leagues across the country have come under scrutiny to improve player safety after revelations revolving around head trauma and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Parents, players and researchers alike worry about head injuries, with the Ivy League going so far as to outlaw tackling in practice.
In response, the NFL and Football Research Inc., a nonprofit corporation looking to make the game of football safer, recently announced the winners of the HeadHealthTECH Challenge II, a competition which invited companies to draw up proposals for improvements in football protective equipment, including helmets and related technologies.
Baytech Products, one of the three companies that won grant money, is headed by President Robert T. Bayer ’58, a Cornell mechanical engineering graduate. Based in Asheville, North Carolina, Baytech received $178,000 to try and better the current football helmets, receiving the most grant money, compared to 2NDSkull and Windpact, the other two grant winners.
“I’ve always been interested in sports and I’ve always been tinkering with things,” said Bayer, who played football and basketball in high school and a year of lacrosse at Cornell. “When I found out about the NFL and football in general causing concussions and I thought, ‘I bet I could come up with something to help reduce the risk.’”
Bayer, a former athlete himself and the great uncle of Sun Sports Editor Zachary Silver ’19, was determined to develop a product that mitigates the dangers of playing the sports he has loved. But after various prototypes and designs, he said he still did not have a functioning helmet.
He and his team kept at it.
“You don’t give up on something like this,” Bayer said. “My Cornell engineering background helped me to keep thinking through the problem even though we met roadblocks. We finally came up with this most recent design.”
The helmets that are currently issued to NFL players focus on reducing lacerations to the head and skull fractures. However, inside the helmet the brain gets knocked against the sides of the skull, Bayer said.
Thus, the main point of emphasis for Bayer and his team in the process of developing this new helmet was attempting to reduce the sudden acceleration and deceleration of the brain so that it is not banging back and forth against the walls of the skull.
“The way [our helmet] is constructed, the head is really anchored in the bottom section,” Bayer explained. “So if there is any impact, the top section will absorb the energy before it is all transmitted to the head. [And] there is an air void between the head and the shell itself, so there is room for [the helmet] to compress inward or move in any direction.”
Although initially intending to corner the youth market with this new technology, Bayer and his company came across the opportunity to apply for the NFL grant after self-funding their research for the past four years. With his company eventually winning, Bayer will have the next year to spend the grant money and begin testing its prototype HitGard® multi-component helmet system technology.
But, it has not been tested on field yet, Bayer said. “It has only been tested in laboratories by tests that have been developed for certification of football helmets.”
Also included in this grant process will be the opportunity for Bayer’s company to test its technology out on the football field. Bayer has high hopes for these tests and looks forward to the potential manufacturing process.
“When we finish up with this grant, which will be one year from now, it is our hope that we will have a helmet that is superior to all others in terms of impact absorption and hopefully reduce the risk of concussions,” Bayer said. “And we would hope that that could be a standard for football helmets going forward.”