Friday 23 February 2018

Robots as scrum test dummies - Rugby needs to follow American Football's example to keep player's safe

Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

It is hardly surprising that concussion, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and other serious injuries cause concern in American Football, particularly at schoolboy level.

According to a recent report in the New Yorker, in 2015 eight US high school students died from injuries linked with American football. These included a broken neck, a lacerated spleen, and blunt-force trauma to the head.

Can Irish rugby teams learn from the American experience as they try to cut down on their toll of carnage?

Some US schools are now using innovative techniques to prevent the damaging effects of concussion.

School coaches and researchers have found that many injuries take place during training sessions. At St Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida, coaches have limited the time of training practices to 90 minutes. They have also restricted tackling during sessions.

Instead of putting themselves at risk of hits to the head, students practise their tackling using remote-controlled human-size robots, which are wrapped in foam. They are known as Mobile Virtual Players - and they can travel at 18mph.

The football-playing dummies were developed by engineering students at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. According to Dr Robert Cantu, a brain-injury specialist at Boston University, reducing the contact between players in training sessions significantly reduces the number of cases of concussion.

Some schools are now also using special goggles to help diagnose concussion on the sidelines. The New Yorker reported that they are equipped with two high-resolution cameras, that can detect the desynchronisation of the wearer's rapid eye movements - a sign of concussion.

In some US schools, sports players are given cognitive tests at the start of the season. These can be used as a baseline to check whether they are being affected by hits to the head during the year.

Another device known as Ahead 300 has just been launched in the United States, and this aims to make it easier for doctors to make pitchside assessments of players. The device uses a headset to enable doctors to take measurements in the brain and diagnose concussion. The test takes between 10 and 30 minutes.

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