Seminar Series

A Novel Head Impact Telemetry System for Non-Helmeted Collision Sports


Dr Elisabeth Williams


Swansea University, Wales, U.K

Time & Place

Wed, 05 Jun 2019 14:00:00 NZST in E12 (Lecture Theatre), Engineering CORE


The issue of concussive injury and neurocognitive deterioration following repetitive head impacts in contact and collision sports has been widely addressed in scientific literature. Accurate identification and quantification of head impact exposure (HIE) is imperative to develop appropriate risk metrics and understand relationships between impact exposure and neurocognitive outcomes. There are many published scientific studies dedicated to deriving appropriate methods and metrics to quantify and characterize HIE in collision sports. Most of these methods, however, are focused on helmeted sports; primarily American football,
where a player’s face is protected by a facemask. The size of these systems presents a problem for non-helmeted sports, such as rugby union, given the exposure of the head and face during collisions. A physically appropriate head impact telemetry system, designed for the unique impact dynamics of non-helmeted sports, is therefore required.

Accurately recording head impact biomechanics in non-helmeted collision sports presents a unique challenge. There is no externally worn hardware to protect the face or to embed sensors and the associated components. The majority of existing HIE studies in non-helmeted sports have utilized skin-mounted head impact telemetry systems, which do not comply with WR clothing regulations (4.5c). These sensors are also susceptible to soft tissue artifact (STA); the relative movement between a skin marker (or sensor) and the underlying bone. This is a potentially significant source of error for skin-mounted head impact sensors and previous studies have reported high head acceleration values. To address this, a real-time head-impact telemetry system that is compatible with non-helmeted contact sports has been developed. This is in the form of a bespoke instrumented mouthguard (iMG), with tight sensor-skull coupling, and associated software and hardware. The system, called PROTECHT™, has been validated against highly calibrated crash test dummies, human laboratory testing and battle testing in professional rugby union training and matches. This system can have many health and performance benefits for these sports including ongoing monitoring of cumulative head impact exposure. It will also enable a greater understanding of head impact exposure in contact sports and the potential relationship with neurocognitive outcomes.






Elisabeth Williams is a senior lecturer in biomechanics and technology at Swansea University in Wales, in the college of engineering. She is the lead investigator in the Look-A-Head research program for brain health and well-being in rugby union. 

Current member of the Organisation of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA) Terminology task group under NIST - Law Enforcement.

Employed for most of a decade in sport-related fields in a variety of R&D roles.

Competed in track and road cycling for 15 years, representing New Zealand at many international events including the 2006 Commonwealth Games (4th place, track sprint).