US Army testing helmet tech that dramatically increases safety in military, sports


September 21, 2021

The U.S. Army is testing a new helmet suspension technology that promises to drastically improve the protective capability of helmets used by football players and soldiers.

The invention, created by scientists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, uses a special shock-absorbing webbing to offer far greater protection than conventional foam pads.

The key to improved performance, according to Eric Wetzel, the technology’s lead inventor, is the rate-activated tether, or RAT, used to create the webbing that suspends the helmet on the head.

“When you pull it slowly, it stretches and relaxes easily, like a rubber band,” Wetzel said. “When you pull the RAT faster, however, it requires significantly more force to pull. The result is that a RAT-based suspension is forgiving under low-energy impacts, highly dissipative under high-energy impacts, and very efficiently uses the limited space between the head and the helmet shell.”

The suspension technology has shown to be more effective than current football helmet padding. A recent NOCSAE test — the standard for football helmet safety — using a helmet retrofitted with the RAT system showed the new invention could reduce the likelihood of concussion from 0.66 percent to 0.11 percent.

In addition to the football test, the helmet has surpassed all current combat helmet technology in initial testing, Wetzel said.

“Our prototypes have been passing impact test requirements at the highest performance goal of 17 fps, in some cases by a wide margin, which no existing combat helmet technology has been able to achieve,” he said.

The helmet could also have applications for public safety, as well as the construction industry, or biking, Wetzel said.

“We have built prototypes in the lab that provide protection for rear impacts, crown impacts, and front impacts,” he said. “Our current priority is getting industry excited about this technology, attracting experts in product design and assembly to partner with us to accelerate the transition of this technology into a useful product.”

The Army reported that the helmet was undergoing actual parachute jump tests at Fort Bragg on September 10.

Matthieu Dumont, senior licensing manager at TechLink, is working in collaboration with Army technology transfer professionals to help companies understand how government inventions can quickly become new products.

Through technology transfer agreements, such as cooperative research and development agreements (CRADA) or patent license agreements, private businesses can leverage the Army’s R&D, using it to develop new products for military or non-military customers.

The new helmet technology developed by Wetzel and his teammates is the perfect example of a fully fleshed-out invention that only needs the backing of a business in order to take off, he said.

“Whether for sports, or worker safety, this RAT-based helmet technology has strong potential for successful commercialization,” Dumont said. “We’ve contacted a number of companies about a license agreement, but there’s still an opportunity for others to get involved now.”

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