RFID Helps NOCSAE Study Youth Football Helmets

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, (NOCSAE), is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing safety standards related to helmets and other equipment. Recently, this group has been employing an RFID-based solution to track football helmets as they are retrieved from local youth football organizations to be tested or refurbished, with an end goal of helping to prevent head injuries for young athletes.

NOCSAE is carrying out the testing on behalf of a consortium of athletic and safety associations. The members of this group include not only NOCSAE, but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the NFL, USA Football, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) as well as helmet makers like Rawlings, Riddell, Schutt and Xenith.

The technology, provided by (pronounced serial IO), consists of passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and readers, as well as software to manage the collected read data. NOCSAE used the technology throughout the summer of 2012, tracking which helmets they received from their service providers (helmet-refurbishing companies) and identifying the headgear when NOCSAE later retrieved it for testing.

NOCSAE and several researchers from a handful of universities are currently in the process of investigating how well helmets in use will meet the standards for protecting players from concussions during play. According to Michael Oliver, the NOCSAE’s executive director and general counsel, states that NOCSAE is testing the older helmets which may not meet these standards in the hopes to remove and replace unsafe gear for helmets that would provide proper protection against head injuries during football games and practices.

In 2012, the consortium launched a program in which they offered to replace helmets for youth football clubs in disadvantaged regions, provided that the headgear was more than ten years old. In its first year, the pilot program was implemented in four markets: the California Bay Area, Gulf Coast region, Northern Ohio and the tri-state region around New York City. NOCSAE hired helmet reconditioning and refurbishing businesses to retrieve the headgear, inspect it as well as store it for NOCSAE, whom would later run tests on some of those helmets as part of the study.

The research project required a database that could record details regarding each helmet; Oliver says, as well as make it easy for NOCSAE to locate that helmet at a later date. He determined that RFID would be the best solution for such a venture since the technology could not only enable a user equipped with a handheld reader to identify each helmet but would also make a particular helmet easy to later locate using a Geiger-counter mode on the handheld reader.

Serialio provided seven of its Scanfob® Ultra-BB GEN2 RFID readers, and its GRID-IN-HAND® Mobile Grid software solution. Upon picking up the helmets, the refurbishing companies transported them to their facilities, attached an Alien Technology adhesive tag (measuring 3 inches by 1 inch) to each helmet’s exterior, and read the tag using the Scanfob Ultra-BB reader. That data was then transmitted, via a Bluetooth connection, to a mobile phone and back to a server. At the end of the day, the information was uploaded to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet which provided each helmet’s make, model, manufacturing date and RFID number, along with data indicating who had possession of the helmet.

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