After more than two years of research and development, Vicis is ready to sell its high-tech football helmet.
The Seattle-based startup today revealed pricing and details about how its helmet provides more protection against skull fracture, traumatic brain injury, and concussion than the traditional helmet used by athletes today.
Bloomberg reported that the company’s ZERO1 helmet will be priced at $1,500 each, with NFL and NCAA teams planning to use the product during the 2016-17 season.
That price point is considerably higher than helmets already available, but Vicis is focused on NFL teams and top college programs that aren’t as cash-strapped as, say, a high school squad. The company plans to sell 1,500 helmets this year, Bloomberg noted.
Vicis says its helmet differentiates from the competition 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.
“We don’t have that hard polycarbonate shell,” Vicis CEO Dave Marver said on stage at the GeekWire Summit in October while demoing the product. “We have a multi-layered system with a novel outer shell material and a novel engineered structure. We’ve redesigned the helmet from scratch to provide protection against not just skull fracture, but from traumatic brain injury or concussion.”
There are four layers of the shell material, starting with the outer-most “LODE Shell,” which absorbs impact load by local deforming much like a car bumper, and unlike traditional helmets that have hard exterior shells.
Then, there’s the “Core Layer,” seen below, which is utilizes bendable vertical struts also designed to absorb impact.
Underneath the “Core Layer” is a thin plastic “ARCH Shell” and a liner which uses advanced memory foam that conforms to a player’s head, as well as a redesigned chinstrap with four straps — two of which are attached to the inner shell, which Vicis says also reduces impact.
Vicis, which also developed its own custom fitting system that incorporates head length and breadth measurements, worked with Seattle-based Artefact on the design of its helmet.
Vicis spun out of the University of Washington last year and has raised $10 million from investors like the Alliance of Angels, current and former NFL players, and several prominent spine and neurological surgeons. It also has $750,000 in grant funding from The Head Health Initiative, which is co-led by the NFL, Under Armour, and GE.
The company has an impressive leadership team. Marver has over two decades of business experience in the medical device space; Chief Medical Officer Samuel Browd is a director for the Seattle Children’s Hospital Sports Concussion Program; and Chief Technology Officer Per Reinhall is the chairman of the UW Mechanical Engineering Department.
There are a handful of other startups around the world that are coming up with innovations to help reduce and/or monitor concussions in sports. Other Seattle-based companies in this space include X2 Biosystems and i1 Biometrics.
As far as American football is concerned, there is certainly an ongoing concussion crisis impacting the popular game that was addressed in the recent movie Concussion starring Will Smith. One out of every three retired NFL players is expected to develop long-term cognitive problems; doctors are criticizing the NCAA for how it protects student-athletes from head trauma; and parents — from LeBron James to Brett Favre — are skeptical of allowing their children to play football due to safety concerns.
It’s a pressing problem for the NFL, which was sued in 2013 by former players who were suffering from brain injuries and blamed the NFL for hiding the dangers of head trauma. More and more players as of late are deciding to retire early over concussion risks.