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Brain Trust: GE, NFL and Under Armour Challenge Innovators to Improve Concussion Prevention and Treatment

Concussions are a major concern in sports, but they can happen anywhere. At least 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur in the United States annually. These head traumas contribute to a third of all injury-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The National Football League, apparel and footwear maker Under Armour, and GE are paying attention. Today they launched the second stage of an innovation project designed to crowdsource new materials and tools to protect the brain and track head injuries in real time. The best submissions in this stage will share up to $10 million in prize money.

The project called Head Health Challenge is a four-year, $60 million collaboration aiming to speed diagnosis and improve treatment for mild traumatic brain injuries, and increase the safety of athletes, members of the military and the public.

The challenge calls on innovators to develop active polymers and other smart materials that absorb or distribute impact forces. It is also looking for new systems that anticipate head blows and initiate protective responses by adaptive padding.

The organizers are also seeking technology that could monitor forces and share the information with imaging and diagnostic equipment, and “biofeedback” sensors that can help train athletes to minimize injury. Finally, the challenge is looking for data specialists who can develop systems that efficiently collect, organize and interpret large quantities of real-time “head” data. “GE is investing to speed up the study of head health,” says Sue Siegel, CEO of Business Innovations at GE. “Through this challenge, we hope to stimulate the broader ecosystem of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators worldwide to bring their talents to this effort and accelerate the current understanding of brain trauma.”

Competitors can submit their ideas from now through Jan. 30, 2014, at www.headhealthchallenge.com. Up to 10 participants will be selected as finalists in September 2014, and earn as much as $500,000 each. Up to five of those finalists will be awarded as much as $1 million after a second phase of judging.

The first Head Health challenge ended in July with more than 400 submissions from 25 countries. Winners of the first stage will be announced later this year.

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