Seattle startup Vicis today pulled its high-tech helmets from the University of Washington and University of Oregon football teams, citing the need to improve comfort and fit for players.
UW and UO were the first collegiate programs using the Vicis helmets in fall practice and planned to have players wear them this season.
But a Vicis spokesman said today that the company “decided to proactively pull back the helmets.” Here’s a statement from Vicis:
“This is not a surprise. We expected the need for refinements. On-field use revealed opportunities for improvement regarding comfort and fit. We’re assessing the design changes and will make the helmet available for player use as soon as we’re satisfied with the changes.”
It’s a setback for Vicis, which says its helmet provides more protection against skull fracture, traumatic brain injury, and concussion than the traditional helmet used by athletes today.
The plan is to have both teams wearing Vicis helmets again this season, but the company “won’t release the next version until we’re satisfied with all of the refinements,” the spokesperson said.
From UW beat reporters Christian Caple and Adam Jude at practice today:
Sounds like primary issues were with chinstrap and forehead area. Vicis says emphasis isn't just on safety, but also player comfort.
— Christian Caple (@ChristianCaple) August 17, 2016
Plan for now is for the Huskies to use their old Riddell helmets this season. (No idea what that means for color combinations.)
— Adam Jude (@A_Jude) August 17, 2016
And from Oregonian reporter Andrew Greif, who noted some players complaining of migraines and nausea from the helmets:
Similar fit issues have happened at Oregon. Many players have complained and gone back to their previous helmets. https://t.co/e0ngkx1Fhp
— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) August 17, 2016
I was at the UW practice on Monday and noticed that some players, like offensive lineman Henry Roberts (pictured below), were wearing the old Riddell helmets. Earlier reports noted that most players were happy with the Vicis helmets, but some did complain about fit.
The Vicis helmet, which retails at $1,500 each, differentiates from other available options because of a unique outer shell material that is designed to mitigate the forces thought to cause concussions on the football field and in other contact sports.
Vicis recently posted a video that shows how its helmet can be calibrated to custom-fit players depending on their head shape, but based on today’s announcement, it seems some players aren’t totally comfortable with the product.
Vicis spun out of the UW in 2014 and one of its co-founders, CTO Per Reinhall, is the chairman of the UW Mechanical Engineering Department. After two years of development, Vicis is ready for teams to wear its ZERO1 helmet, even buying billboard space near the UO campus in Eugene touting the product. But its arrival to the football world looks to be delayed now.
The 30-person company previously told GeekWire that around 25 NFL and 30 NCAA teams had expressed interest in testing the helmet for the 2016 season.
Vicis has raised nearly $20 million since 2014, most recently reeling in $6 million this past May. More than 100 investors participated in its Series A round, including angels, neurological and spine surgeons, NFL players, and business leaders from across the country.
Investors range from people like Roger Staubach, the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback who led his team to two Super Bowl wins; to folks like Robert Nelsen, a biotech industry veteran and co-founder of Arch Venture Partners; and Bruce Montgomery, a veteran of the Seattle biotech scene.
UW head coach Chris Petersen told the Seattle Times last month that he believes Vicis’ product will be “the safest helmet on the market.”
“We were struck by the fact that there had been so little innovation in the helmet space,” Marver said, recalling the early days of Vicis. “Today’s players are using helmets that resemble those worn in the 1970s. We were also surprised that so few startups were attacking the problem. We thought we could make a difference.”
Update: The headline was edited to reflect that Vicis pulled the helmets from each team.