Friday, January 04, 2008
New military helmet measures impact
As an embedded reporter in Iraq, I had a chance to see firsthand some of the strengths and shortfalls of the gear being used to protect our military. As a neurosurgeon I was particularly interested in the helmets worn by U.S. armed forces. In the spring of 2003, I was asked to operate a few times in Iraq on soldiers and civilians with catastrophic head injuries, which gave me a unique look at the pattern of injuries being suffered. Truth is, it seemed for the vast majority of people, the helmets did a good job, given the constraints. Keep in mind, they had to be lightweight, not too warm given the climate, and still durable enough to protect against shrapnel wounds.
We now know, though, that traumatic brain injury has become one of the signature injuries of this war and one of the biggest culprits is IEDs or improvised explosive devices. A big question is just how much force does an explosive device generate? How much acceleration and how much pressure is really generated? Well, that is hard to know, but a new technology the Army is using caught my eye.
When we started making calls to the U.S. Army about the helmet, they actually offered to fly a helmet to the CNN Center, complete with a soldier, Major William Schaffer, to demonstrate the technology. It is essentially a smart helmet that carries a microchip that measures impact, from things like an IED or even just from landing on the ground after a jump. A group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division will receive the smart helmets when they deploy for Afghanistan in the spring. Now, while it is admittedly difficult to directly correlate the effects of those measured blast forces on the brain, the hope is that one day it could lead to the design of even safer equipment.
A lot of people are thinking about safer and more effective protective gear. Do you have any ideas or thoughts on how to make better gear? We can share some of your thoughts directly with the Army.
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