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Virginia Tech Helmet Lab Announces First Four-Star Rating
June 23, 2017

In an effort to provide adequate protection against catastrophic head injury, protective headgear standards have been developed and published by various standards-setting organizations. These standards define laboratory tests for helmets that are matched to the use intended. For example, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) publishes a wide range of sports helmet standards and the National Operating Committee for Sports and Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) has developed standards that helmets for U.S. football must meet. All sports helmets must meet an impact-protection standard that evaluates the ability of helmets to minimize catastrophic head injury on a pass-fail basis.

Graduate students Megan Bland, left, and Eamon Campolettano test the Bauer RE-AKT 200, the first hockey helmet to earn four stars in the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings.

A newly released hockey helmet, the Bauer RE-AKT 200, has earned four out of five stars from the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings, scoring higher than any other helmet since the first hockey ratings were released two years ago.

The star rating system, developed by researchers in the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab, rates a helmet’s ability to reduce the risk of concussion in the event of a head impact.

“We supplement the standard by providing additional data so consumers can see the relative differences between helmets,” said Steve Rowson, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics in the College of Engineering and director of the Helmet Lab. “We make that data available and release our testing methodology, which then becomes an additional design tool for the manufacturers.”

Using a headform instrumented with sensors, the Helmet Lab team simulates a range of impacts that a player might experience during a game, and measures how much the helmet reduces the head’s linear and rotational acceleration.

Prof. Rowson and Stefan Duma, the Harry Wyatt Professor of Engineering and interim director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, began evaluating football helmets in 2011, designing the test methods based on millions of impacts they recorded from Virginia Tech football players. The Helmet Lab team began testing hockey helmets a few years later, and has since rated more than 40 models.

“With the helmet ratings, we provide unbiased data and a transparent process that manufacturers can use to inform their design process and consumers can use to guide their choices,” Prof. Duma said. “We’ve been glad to have the opportunity to work with helmet companies to drive innovation, because we all have the same goal: to keep athletes as safe as possible.”

The team’s current ratings are available online, and are updated on a rolling basis.

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