Three years ago, MSU researchers began working on harvesting mechanical energy that could be as simple as taking a step. The goal was to take mechanical energy and convert it into electrical energy.
Then, when the researchers discovered that the conversion for this would be too difficult to successfully achieve, they decided to look in a new direction.
“I went to an MSU football game and I was lucky enough to have a friend who had very close tickets,” said electrical and computer engineering professor Nelson Sepulveda. “It was the first time I watched a football game so close and I realized that the boys played quite hard. I thought, “I’ll do my best to see if a device can be used to help with this.”
Sepulveda and two students, Henry D’Souza and Gerardo Morales-Torres, have since begun studying a way to catch injuries before they progress and get worse.
Dsouza is the mastermind behind the project. He was the first to propose the idea of further consideration of sports training. The research team first explored ways to monitor movement during practices to monitor and prevent possible lesions, damage, or abnormal change in an organism’s tissue.
“For example, you can put a patch on a baseball pitcher’s arm and that will essentially tell the coach what type of movement is being generated,” Sepulveda said. “It gives some additional feedback for further training or even corrections that could lead to … self-injury.” This can potentially lead to injury… Whenever there is a mechanical input in the form of tension or stress, there is an electrical response.”
After this research was completed and published, Sepúlveda and his students decided to take it a step further.
Henry then proposed the idea of using a bandage to look for concussions in football players. The others jumped on board.
The National Science Foundation awarded MSU a grant to fund the project, and they got to work.
“When I arrived (at Michigan State), it was one of many projects that my research group was working on,” Morales-Torres said. “It caught my attention… I saw the potential of different applications that the bandage could provide . Not only in sports like football, but also in medical things or monitoring the movements in the human body.”
How it works?
The goal is to create a device that detects potential concussions without interfering with gameplay. It is self-powered, compact and does not require a power source to operate.
“We have a bandage-like device that attaches to the neck,” Morales-Torres said. “When the head faces an impact, the neck will move and the device captures the mechanical energy perceived by the neck and converts it into electrical energy that the computer can capture and we can analyze and study for concussions.”
Thanks to the positioning of the bandage on the neck, it can accurately read the movements in the head, while allowing the athletes to play as usual. These self-powered sensors also work without interfering with player performance.
“At first we thought, let’s see if we can develop patches to put on the impact sites. So we were thinking about the forehead… the cheekbones, etc.,” Sepulveda said. “We wanted it to be as forgettable as possible for the athlete.”
As they investigated further, they found that placing the bandage on the neck rather than high impact areas would make it easier to observe possible mild traumatic brain injuries.
What is the status of the device?
So far, only dummies have been used for testing purposes. The device is not approved for testing by athletes. There are necessary steps that must be completed before you can bring people into the picture.
“In the future, we hope to make it wireless,” Morales-Torres said. “Right now the setup is big and we have a lot of cables attached.”
Dsouza said they are still a long way from running a trial run of athletes.
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“We’ve just demonstrated that this correction can actually work with a central strike motion,” Dsouza said. “First and foremost, we have to make the release of the system so that it can transmit all signals to a coach or an adult. “
Researchers are seeing how this applies to other high-impact sports, not just soccer. These sports include hockey and boxing, where athletes are more susceptible to mild traumatic brain injuries.
“At this time, the device should not replace the opinion of any medical professional as to whether or not someone has a concussion,” Morales-Torres said. “We’re trying to get there.”
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