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dmi:Design Value Award Winner - Bresslergroup and HelmetFit
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Bresslergroup and HelmetFit

HelmetFit: A Digital/Physical Innovation to Improve Helmet Safety

 

HelmetFit’s founder, Mike Weatherby, was sitting out a quarter of his senior season of college football due to a head injury when he got the idea to innovate the helmet inflation pump. Air bladders have long been used inside football helmets to customize fit around a player’s head and equipment managers typically use hand pumps to inflate the bladders, accessing them via ports on the helmet’s exterior for a snug fit. Research has shown a clear link between inadequate fit and concussion severity. So a properly fitting helmet is the first step in player protection.  

A study of over 250 high school football players conducted by Idaho State University found that although 97.5 percent wore helmets that required regular weekly reinflation, nearly 90 percent of them failed to do so. Over 40 percent didn’t reinflate their bladders at all during the entire football season. Making the helmet inflation process faster, easier, safer, and more precise would give coaches, equipment managers, athletic trainers, and parents more control over ensuring a properly fitted helmet. 

Weatherby worked on the project with Bresslergroup, an insight-driven product innovation lab. The team knew that adoption resistance would be a factor. The solution would need to be as easy to use and as intuitive as possible to persuade coaches and managers away from the hand pumps they’d been using for decades. To increase adoption, they designed a system that works with helmets made by the sport's two major manufacturers. 
 
The HelmetFit solution has two components: an electric pump and an app that communicate via Bluetooth. From initial concepts to prototypes, Bresslergroup’s team of user researchers, industrial and interaction designers, and mechanical and electrical engineers worked together. Industrial and interaction designers mapped the digital-physical product journey, iterating along the way as the device and app were tested. Different forms and configurations for the pump were evaluated. The project was complex on many levels, including the interplay between digital and physical elements and its unique constraints. HelmetFit incorporates novel solutions:

  • Leveraging the user’s phone as the information display frees up real estate on the pump for big, bulky tactile controls that are usable by wet, cold, or gloved hands.
  • The player's name appears in display to ensure that the correct player is being fitted (helpful for an equipment manager or coach who’s fitting an entire team).
  • A “Check Fit” screen at the end of the process walks the user through a brief checklist of fit indicators to further certify optimal player protection.
  • The engineering team sourced a pressure sensor that measures air temperature to help compensate for the difference between outdoor temperature and player’s head temperature due to changes in volume. 
  • Once the parameters of a player’s initial fitting is saved to the app, that data is stored in the cloud to make subsequent fittings faster.

Weatherby was granted a patent and since launching in 2018, HelmetFit has been adopted by more than 100 teams, from youth programs to the NFL, in the U.S. and Canada. “Having everyone’s fit in the palm of my hand gives me the flexibility to hit over 100 helmets in no time at all,” says the Head Equipment Manager at the University of Redlands in California. With its novel design and accessible price point, HelmetFit is a solution that’s having a major impact on a serious problem.
 

  
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