Can NeuroIntel's concussion analytics save football?
Our expert's opinion
NeuroIntel is a startup focussing on trying to make American Football and all other sports safer. The idea is that they want to use data analytics to solve the problem of traumatic brain damage. So basically they are using instrumented helmets from other manufacturers that allow them to detect how many hits a player took during a game as well as the severity of those hits. Next, they link the data to the player's medical history to accurately predict how close a player is to having brain damage or a concussion.
This is really a great initiative as it may save lives. I too play sports and do understand the need of devices in the future to prevent us from severe injuries, especially when you consider that 90% of former football players suffer from brain damages.
- Bayo Owa, Associate Consultant
Can NeuroIntel's Concussion Analytics Save Football?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that football has become mired in controversies. That’s plural - controversies. There’s President Trump’s politically convenient outrage over players failing to stand for the national anthem. There’s NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s continued insistence on asserting nearly limitless autonomy over the rights of players with few checks on his authority. There’s the growing awareness that asking college athletes to risk life and limb to play a sport for free is unfair.
All of these controversies could be enough to sink the sport on their own. But the greatest problem facing the sport is clearly the risk of concussions and the long-term brain damage they can cause. Over the past few decades, there’s been massive amounts of research indicating how playing football can lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. A recent study found that more than 90% of former NFL players have CTE. The dementia and suicides of high profile former players like Junior Seau have been attributed to the concussions they sustained earlier in their careers. The fear of concussions has led to a significant drop in youth football participation. When you consider that the NFL did everything in its power to silence the truth about the severity of concussions for decades, it’s clear that player safety has been sacrificed for the sake of maintaining the sport’s popularity. Taken together, football is certainly facing a pivotal crisis.
So far, the NFL’s attempts to improve player safety have been about avoiding concussions — they’ve essentially eliminated kickoffs from the game, emphasized safer tackling techniques, and have tried to more heavily penalize head shots. There has also been some improvement in helmet technology. None of these methods address the fundamental issue of preventing concussions in real-time.
As a football fan myself, I was intrigued to learn about about NeuroIntel, a startup focused on trying to make football — and all sports — safer. The company was founded by two high-school aged cousins, Avinash and Neil Sanghavi, who have been avid football fans all their lives, but whose parents didn’t allow them to play the sport because of the risks. They began to run experiments and think about how they could make the sport safer. Their conclusion was that data could help predict concussions and enable teams to get players off the field before they were injured.
How it works
NeuroIntel is seeking to use data analytics to solve the problem of traumatic brain injury (TBI). They are using instrumented helmets from other manufacturers that allow them to detect how many hits a player has taken in a game as well as the severity of those hits. Every single player is instrumented in this way. They can then couple this data with the player's medical history to accurately predict how close a player is to having a TBI or concussion or whether they’ve sustained one. It's important to know that it’s not only big hits that cause concussions in football, but also the repeated smaller hits players sustain. The player’s status can be placed on a spectrum called the CRI (concussion risk index) Meter. This index uses sensor data from the helmets and cross references it with previous data to predict the risk of a concussion. This allows coaching and medical staff to take necessary precautions to prevent a concussion.
NeuroIntel is creating a brain degeneration index based on deep machine learning combining player health history, the history of former NFL players, and other data to offer accurate assessments of the long term brain health of individual players due to cumulative impacts. This brain degeneration index then provides a list of potential long term brain injuries such as Alzheimer's and CTE, as well as possible ways to address the injuries.
The company’s technology is still in the Alpha stage, but the founders think it has broad applications outside football. After all, almost all competitive sports, from soccer to basketball, involve the risk of concussions.
Will using data in this way to assess the brain health of players save football? It’s hard to say — as I outlined above, the sport is facing problems beyond concussions. But regardless of whether the sport itself survives long-term, making it as safe as possible in the near term is a noble aspiration. Football isn’t going anywhere soon and that means that the risk of concussions will remain. In an era where big data and machine learning will be guiding more of our decisions and personal lives, trying to harness technological power to make athletes safer is well worth pursuing.
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