This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/336,429 filed Jan. 22, 2010 and U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/409,906 filed Nov. 3, 2010, the contents of both are hereby incorporated by reference.
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OF THE INVENTION
Participation in athletic activities is increasing at all age levels. All participants may be potentially exposed to physical harm as a result of such participation. Physical harm is more likely to occur in athletic events where collisions between participants frequently occur (e.g., football, field hockey, lacrosse, ice hockey, soccer and the like). In connection with sports such as football, hockey and lacrosse where deliberate collisions between participants occur, the potential for physical harm and/or injury is greatly enhanced. Approximately 300,000 athletes incur concussions in the United States each year. This may be a conservative estimate because many minor head injuries go unreported. Although most concussions occur in high-impact sports, athletes in low-impact sports are not immune to mild traumatic brain injury. Head injuries are caused by positive and negative acceleration forces experienced by the brain and may result from linear or rotational accelerations (or both). Both linear and rotational accelerations are likely to be encountered by the head at impact, damaging neural and vascular elements of the brain.
At the school level, school authorities have become sensitive to the risk of injury to which student participants are exposed, as well as to the liability of the school system when injury results. Greater emphasis is being placed on proper training and instruction to limit potential injuries. Some players engage in reckless behavior on the athletic field or do not appreciate the dangers to which they and others are subject by certain types of impacts experienced in these athletic endeavors. Unfortunately, the use of mouth guards and helmets does not prevent all injuries. One particularly troublesome problem is when a student athlete experiences a head injury, such as a concussion, of undetermined severity even when wearing protective headgear. Physicians, trainers, and coaches utilize standard neurological examinations and cognitive questioning to determine the relative severity of the impact and its effect on the athlete. Return to play decisions can be strongly influenced by parents and coaches who want a star player back on the field.
The same problem arises in professional sports where the stakes are much higher for a team, where such a team loses a valuable player due to the possibility of a severe head injury. Recent medical data suggests that lateral and rotational forces applied to the head and neck area (for example, flexion/extension, lateral flexion, and axial rotation) are more responsible for axonal nerve damage than previously thought. Previous medical research had indicated that axially directed forces (such as spinal compression forces) were primarily responsible for such injuries.
Identifying the magnitude of acceleration that causes brain injury may assist in prevention, diagnosis, and return-to-play decisions. Most field measurements assess the acceleration experienced by the player with accelerometers attached to the helmet. The following show some attempts for measuring the impacts to the skull and brain while the player is participating in a sporting activity. U.S. Pat. No. 5,539,935, entitled “Sports Helmet,” issued on Jul. 30, 1996 and U.S. Pat. No. 5,621,922, entitled “Sports Helmet Capable of Sensing Linear and Rotational Forces,” issued on Apr. 22, 1997 are examples of some of those attempts. Both patents relate to impact sensors for linear and rotational forces in a football helmet. These devices test the impact to the skull of a player. If an athlete suffers a concussion, for example, it will be possible to determine if the relative magnitude of an impact is dangerously high relative to a threshold to which each sensing device is adjusted, taking into consideration the size and weight of the player.
Another attempt performs testing impact acceleration to the head with an intraoral device which provides acceleration information of the brain in various sports. Other attempts have been made, however all these attempts can be costly to implement and fail to provide full historical medical information to coaches, trainers and medical professionals in real-time for dozens of players at a time on one or more adjacent fields.
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OF THE INVENTION
The present invention provides a wirelessly linked sports impact sensing and reporting system. The system mainly includes one or more player electronics modules, a sideline module, and a remotely served and remotely accessible recording database module. In one aspect of the invention, the player module is housed independently within the volume of a set of an otherwise standard mouth guard and chin strap assembly, the sideline module is housed within the structure of an otherwise standard clipboard, and the database module is accessible via a network, e.g., public or private Internet.
In one version of the invention, the player module includes a plurality of sensors capable of detecting impact events in multiple axes, a battery, a data memory storage device, a microprocessor and a LED status indicator array. Each player module includes an RF transducer module and an antenna system, capable of establishing a wireless mesh network for reporting the data associated with an impact to the player. A zinc-air primary cell battery is used with the present player module device, but may be substituted by use of a lithium-polymer rechargeable battery or similar.
In another version of the invention, the sideline module includes a radio system capable of acting as a node on the wireless network and receiving signals from any of the player modules participating on the wireless mesh network in real-time. The sideline module also includes a battery, a data memory storage device, a microprocessor and a display capable of indicating impact information per player on the wireless mesh network, severity of impact, and recommended action in near real-time. The sideline module also includes a loudspeaker capable of generating audible alert tones to attract a coach's attention to incoming information in real-time. A zinc-air primary cell battery is used with the present player module device, but may be substituted by use of a lithium-polymer rechargeable battery or similar.
In still another version of the invention, the database module includes a database of players and associated impact data arrangeable by name, team, date, severity of impact, frequency of impact, and many other parameters. The database module is so constructed to be accessible via the public or private data network and is configured to provide various degrees of access to its information contents. Access accounts may be configured according to individual, team, division, league, physician, and administrator levels. Each account will be granted access to the appropriate set of data only, and password protection will ensure dissemination of data only to authorized parties.
In yet an additional version of the invention, an example system includes a mouth guard having a proximity sensor, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a processor in signal communication with the accelerometer and gyroscope, a memory in data communication with the processor, a transmitter in signal communication with the processor, and a battery that provides power to the processor, the memory, the accelerometer, and the gyroscope. The processor is configured to allow power from a battery to flow to the accelerometer and gyroscope when the proximity sensor detects that the mouth guard has been inserted into a mouth. The processor is also configured to instruct the transmitter to transmit a signal if an acceleration above a predefined first threshold is sensed and to continue transmitting if an acceleration above a predefined second threshold is sensed before a first time period is complete.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
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Preferred and alternative embodiments of the present invention are described in detail below with reference to the following drawings:
FIG. 1 is a drawing showing an example of the invention in context of a football player\'s head in profile, while wearing a football helmet and the sensor-enabled mouth guard and chin strap set, i.e. the player module;
FIG. 2 is a drawing showing the player module in context of its positioning as worn within a human head;
FIG. 3 is a drawing in isometric view showing an example mouth guard element of the player module and indicating the positioning of embedded sensor elements and conductors;
FIG. 4 is a drawing in plan view showing the example mouth guard element of the player module and indicating the positioning of embedded sensor elements and conductors;
FIG. 5 is a drawing showing a side view of an example player module, including the mouth guard element and chinstrap element, and showing the relationship and connection between the two;
FIG. 6 is a drawing in isometric view showing the player module, including mouth guard and chinstrap elements;
FIG. 7 is a drawing showing a portion of an example sideline module embodied as a clipboard, with a display and input buttons in the uppermost region;
FIG. 8 illustrates an exemplary system formed in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 9 is a perspective view of a mouth guard formed in accordance with an embodiment of the invention;
FIG. 10 is a diagram of a sensing module in the mouth guard shown in FIG. 9;
FIG. 11 is a top view of the mouth guard shown in FIG. 9;
FIG. 12 is a front view of the mouth guard shown in FIG. 9;
FIG. 13 is a side view of the mouth guard shown in FIG. 9; and
FIG. 14 is a flowchart of a method of producing a mouth guard having an encapsulated sensor module.