Soumac WOW blog – How smart mouth guards are being used to monitor concussions in contact sports

Concussion has always been a cause of concern in contact sports; however, it’s only more recently that the long-term effects of it have been properly researched and recognised.

Described by its creators as the ‘ultimate in smart protection and safety in sport’ the Opro+ mouth guard is one of the latest innovations in smart technology, which not only acts as a mouth guard to protect players, but also provide real-time analytics to assess the severity of a hit.

In our latest WOW blog, Soumac explores how the technology works:

Each personalised Opro+ mouth guard is fitted with several movement sensors to monitor a range of analytics. The linear accelerometers have been purposely placed near the back of the mouth guard, closer to the skull, to accurately measure the impact of force.  Meanwhile, the rotational accelerometers measure the change in velocity upon impact.

Unlike previous attempts to measure impact in contact sports, which have mostly involved researchers put sensors on player’s helmets, Opro+’s creators claim that the mouth guard is a lot more accurate as the stability of the mouth guard means the sensors are less prone to jerky movements that could affect the results.

Via the aerial line, the data is then transmitted via FM to a portable device, so that professionals can monitor the analytics when accidents do occur.

According to the Opro+ website, the mouth guard follows a simple 5 step process:

  1. Impact – athlete receives impact from an in-play collision.
  2. Protection – OPRO+ bespoke Custom Mouthguard protects the athlete’s teeth from the initial contact and is individually shaped to provide the ultimate fit and retention.
  3. Real time data collection – Real time data on head impacts is captured and passed instantly to the sidelines.
  4. Transmission – Trained professionals and coaches can monitor individual impact and see the exact forces the player has been subjected to.
  5. Action – The team can then make an informed decision based on the data provided by the Opro+ Custom Mouthguard.

Whilst the technology can’t prevent accidents from happening, up until now, doctors have had to heavily rely on the honesty of players to assess whether they should return to the pitch or not. However, it’s hoped that using the analytics from Opro+, doctors and coaches will be able to make more informed decisions.

The Opro+ mouth guard is also fitted with wireless charging capabilities, allowing the battery to last up to 4 hours on one full charge.

Design challenges

Attempting to fit all the sensors into such a small piece of equipment didn’t come without challenges. What’s more, battery life was also a hurdle in the first stages of development, as designers had to consider the amount of time professionals spent playing their sport; as well as ensuring the mouth guard has enough power to transmit the analytics from the pitch to off-side.

The early testing stages also highlighted another issue designers hadn’t considered – how the protective mercury-based amalgam filling suggested by leading dental experts could cause technical issues. While testing on dummies, scientists found they were receiving very different signals, despite the two players being right next to each other. The creators therefore had to go back to the drawing board a number of times before perfecting the current design.

What next?

The Opro+ mouth guard is now being trialled in real life by professional rugby teams – with Wales Opsrey’s and their rival team, Cardiff Blues, currently using the system to assess what forces their players are experiencing in different drills, and to adjust them accordingly to make them safer for players.

If this trial is successful, it’s hoped that other contact sports teams will soon get involved in trialling the mouth guard. As well as this, Opro+ plan to add more sensors in the future, which could also monitor player’s heart rate and hydration – providing professionals with a complete sports-monitoring solution.

The Opro+ is just one of many examples of how smart technology is improving the everyday activities of individuals across a broad range of industries and we look forward to seeing what’s next for smart tech!

 

OPRO+ from OPRO on Vimeo.

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