The National Football League (NFL) and Football Research, Inc. (FRI) awarded $1.37 million in HeadHealthTECH grant funding to four teams of innovators to support the creation of their helmet prototypes to be submitted as part of the ongoing NFL Helmet Challenge, a contest with an additional prize of $1 million.

The $1.37 million in grant funding awarded is an extension of the NFL’s HeadHealthTECH Challenge funding series and was designed to facilitate broad participation in the NFL Helmet Challenge. Applicants will use HeadHealthTECH Challenge funds to bolster their entry into the NFL Helmet Challenge competition. HeadHealthTECH funding is not required to participate in the NFL Helmet Challenge.

The Helmet Challenge will culminate in July 2021 with applicants submitting helmet prototypes for lab testing used by the NFL-NFLPA engineers to rank helmets over the last six years.

Honorees of HeadHealthTECH Helmet Challenge grant funding are as follows:

Christopher Yakacki | Impressio, Inc. and CU Denver
Denver, CO – $491,999

  • Impressio, Inc. and CU Denver, relying on materials science research and additive manufacturing, are looking to create energy-dissipating helmet liners using ultra-dissipative liquid crystalline elastomers (LCEs) and lattice designs to 3D-print player-specific helmet liners to reduce concussions. This project is supported by partners including EOS, nTopology and Schutt.

Xenith, RHEON, BASF, The University of Waterloo | Xenith Project Orbit
Detroit, MI – $412,000

  • Xenith is looking to bring together experts in injury biomechanics, additive manufacturing, material science, design and computational modeling and optimization – BASF, RHEON Labs and The University of Waterloo – to create a new solution for energy management and best-in-class on-field experience for the athlete.

Eric Wagnac (ETS) and Franck LeNaveaux | Kollide
Montreal, Québec – $238,545

  • The Kollide consortium combines the expertise of academic researchers (ETS) and four innovative Montreal-based companies (Kupol, Tactix, ShapeShift3D, Numalogics) who are looking to use their virtual design and non-planar 3D printing approach to create helmets customized to the player’s head with a custom liner to absorb and redirect impact.

Dr. Matthew Panzer | UVA, Nama Development and Topologica, Inc.
Charlottesville, VA – $223,047

  • Dr. Panzer and collaborators are looking to use their cubic and octet foam metamaterial to design a new energy-absorbing layer in a football helmet that will minimize the risk of concussion.

“By bringing together experts from multiple disciplines, the NFL Helmet Challenge aims to encourage revolutionary advances in helmet design,” said Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, who oversees the NFL’s health and safety work. “The awardees demonstrated the potential to do just that. We’re very excited to support their efforts and test their prototypes next year. This is one more sign of the recent transformation in the protective equipment space – more in the last couple of years than over the previous decade – and we are committed to keeping this momentum going.”

“The extraordinarily high level of engagement and breadth of innovative work happening right now in the protective equipment space is exciting to see,” said Dr. Barry Myers, director of innovation at Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (Duke CTSI), who chairs the Oversight Committee that selected the winners. “The four winners awarded today all demonstrated the ability to develop a winning helmet, but there is definitely more to come from many of the other teams and start-ups we saw submit proposals and we look forward to opportunities to support these entrepreneurs in the future.”

The HeadHealthTECH Challenge series is one component of the Engineering Roadmap, a $60-million comprehensive effort – funded by the NFL and managed by FRI – to improve the understanding of the biomechanics of head injuries in professional football and to create incentives for helmet manufacturers, small businesses, entrepreneurs, universities and others to develop and commercialize new and improved protective equipment, including helmets. For more information on the NFL Helmet Challenge, go here.

Illustration courtesy NFL