The Mamori mouthguard and app.
A young Irish inventor, concerned with the lack of attention paid to head injuries in full-contact sports, has invented a mouthguard with built-in sensors that can tell someone on the sidelines when a player has received a serious — yet invisible — injury.
The ongoing controversy about concussions in the NFL provides a powerful backdrop for Mark Dillon's invention. Ice hockey, in addition to Gaelic football, inspired him to address the problem.
"At the moment in Ireland, head injuries have gotten a lot of coverage in our national sport, Gaelic football," wrote Dillon in an email to NBC News. "Helmets provide a great deal of protection but unfortunately concussion is unavoidable."
And one of the biggest problems is that it can occur without anyone's knowledge. One ice hockey player received a severe concussion, taking him out of the game, and it wasn't until after a week and multiple tests and doctors that it was determined that he had, in fact, been concussed for several days before the incident — and stacking concussions can have dire, even fatal consequences.
What if, Dillon wondered, the original concussion and others like it could be detected and treated instantly? A few sensors on the player would be able to determine when a shock received was serious enough to cause head injury. So Dillon began work on embedding such sensors in players' gear, first in a helmet and later the mouthguard.
A tiny accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer, along with a wireless chip and battery, are all packed into the device, which Dillon calls "Mamori" (Japanese for "protect"). The inertial sensors constantly monitor for movement and relay that information in real time to a laptop on the sidelines. If a player takes a hit, the force involved is immediately known, and if the impact falls above the threshold where a concussion is likely, medical care can be given instantly.
"As far as I know, there are currently no other products similar to Mamori on the market," wrote Mark. "I would love to see this product make a big impact on the lives of athletes and sports fans around the world.
Mamori is a finalist for the James Dyson Award, in which hundreds of university-level design and engineering students compete for cash and recognition. Fourteen other projects will be evaluated personally by inventor (and vacuum tycoon) Sir James Dyson, with the winner receiving $45,000 and a bit extra for their school. You can browse the rest of the finalists here.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.
First published October 11 2013, 2:38 PM