For the most part, the race to protect athletes from head injuries has focused on, well, the head. But two brothers from Canada think they have a better solution.
Football and hockey helmets do a great job of protecting skulls, which is why you almost never hear about athletes suffering skull fractures on the field. The real trouble involves the neck: A blow to the head can cause the brain to slam around the inside the skull, sometimes resulting in a concussion.
That's why Charles and Rob Corrigan, two former high school hockey players from Waterloo, Ontario, created the Halo shirt, the first product from their startup Aexos. The brothers are familiar with head injuries: Both had to stop playing hockey as teens after suffering too many concussions.
Halo's collar, made from a "smart" polymer, is soft but instantly stiffens when met with an accelerating force. That should help immobilize the neck when an athlete is hit in the head--in theory, limiting brain jostling, and helping to prevent whiplash, too.
Four years ago, Charles, who studied kinesiology and design as an undergrad in Canada, and Rob, who studied business management, started brainstorming ways to limit the rate of acceleration experienced by the head when an athlete endures a hit. They knew the potential solution shouldn't be too much of a burden to someone playing a sport.
"Athletes don't want to add equipment," Charles says. "They want to stay light and fast."
The brothers scoured the market for materials that could help. They eventually discovered SAS-TEC, a German company that manufactured a rate-sensitive material--the harder the force applied to it, the firmer it became. In one YouTube video they found, two guys in a lab placed the material over their hands, smashed it with a hammer, and ended up totally fine. The brothers' interest was piqued. At the time, SAS-TEC was using it to make items like knee braces and gloves. The Corrigans reached out, asking if the company was willing to send them some material for prototyping a new kind of shirt.
Two years later, the resulting garment features a mock turtleneck that stiffens when the head whips in any direction. Importantly, it isn't bulky, thus lowering the barrier of entry for athletes.
"Luckily for us," Charles says, "it was just a really interesting intersection of the cultural timing of concussion awareness and these materials being available for us to iterate and do some [research and development] with."
The Corrigans say that in studies, the Halo has been shown to reduce neck acceleration by up to 47 percent.
The shirt, which retails for $165, ships in December. While the brothers won't name names, they say you'll see some notable NFL and NHL athletes wearing it soon.
"We know this can help a lot of people, especially young people," Rob says. "We're going to do what we can to get this on as many athletes as possible."