NFL helmet design Christopher Yakacki, Impressio

NFL awards $1.37M to helmet design contestants

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The National Football League (NFL) and Football Research, Inc. (FRI) has awarded $1.37 million in HeadHealthTECH grant funding to four teams of designers looking to create the next generation American Football helmet.

The NFL Helmet Challenge is an innovation challenge that engages experts, innovators and helmet manufacturers to design a new helmet for NFL players that outperforms, based on specified laboratory testing, all helmets currently worn by NFL players.

The HeadHealthTECH Challenge series is one component of the Engineering Roadmap, a $60-million comprehensive effort – funded by the NFL and managed by FRI – to improve the understanding of the biomechanics of head injuries in professional football and to create incentives for helmet manufacturers, small businesses, entrepreneurs, universities and others to develop and commercialise new and improved protective equipment, including helmets.

As part of ongoing efforts to help reduce concussion-related injuries in the sport, it’s a problem that is estimated to eventually cost the NFL approaching a billion dollars in lawsuits, with reports suggesting 6,000 of nearly 20,000 retired players will eventually suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or moderate dementia.

The Helmet Challenge will culminate in July 2021, with an additional prize of $1 million, in which applicants prototypes will undergo the same laboratory testing used by the NFL’s engineers to rank helmets over the last six years.

“By bringing together experts from multiple disciplines, the NFL Helmet Challenge aims to encourage revolutionary advances in helmet design,” said Jeff Miller, NFL exec VP of communications, public affairs and policy, who oversees the NFL’s health and safety work.

“The awardees demonstrated the potential to do just that. We’re very excited to support their efforts and test their prototypes next year.

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“This is one more sign of the recent transformation in the protective equipment space – more in the last couple of years than over the previous decade – and we are committed to keeping this momentum going.”

Impressio NFL helmet testing


The NFL Helmet Design contenders

Christopher Yakacki, Impressio, Inc. and CU Denver – $491,999

Impressio, Inc. and CU Denver, relying on materials science research and additive manufacturing, are looking to create unprecedented energy-dissipating helmet liners using ultra-dissipative liquid crystalline elastomers (LCEs) and lattice designs to 3D-print player-specific helmet liners to reduce concussions. This project is supported by partners including EOS, nTopology, and Schutt.

Xenith, RHEON, BASF, The University of Waterloo, Xenith Project Orbit – $412,000

Xenith, an industry leader in football equipment, is looking to bring together experts in injury biomechanics, additive manufacturing, material science, design and computational modeling and optimization – BASF, RHEON Labs and The University of Waterloo – to create a new solution for energy management and a best-in-class on-field experience for the athlete.

Eric Wagnac (ETS) and Franck LeNaveaux, Kollide – $238,545

The Kollide consortium combines the expertise of academic researchers (ETS) and four innovative Montreal-based companies (Kupol, Tactix, ShapeShift3D, Numalogics) who are looking to use their virtual design and non-planar 3D printing approach to create helmets customized to the player’s head with a custom liner optimized to absorb and redirect impact.

Matthew Panzer, UVA, Nama Development and Topologica, Inc. – $223,047

Dr. Panzer and collaborators are looking to use their innovative cubic + octet foam metamaterial to design a new energy absorbing layer in a football helmet that will minimize risk of concussion.


The HeadHealthTECH Challenge grant funding is just one of the many resources that the NFL has brought to bear to support potential applicants throughout the NFL Helmet Challenge process.

Other available resources include those developed through the Engineering Roadmap, such as NFL video review data and finite element models of modern football helmets.

“The extraordinarily high level of engagement and breadth of innovative work happening right now in the protective equipment space is exciting to see,” said Dr. Barry Myers, director of innovation at Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, who chairs the oversight committee that selected the winners.

“The four winners awarded today all demonstrated the ability to develop a winning helmet, but there is definitely more to come from many of the other teams and start-ups we saw submit proposals and we look forward to opportunities to support these entrepreneurs in the future.”


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