Vicis, a Seattle startup company that sought to make a safer football helmet now has their version in the hands of over 100 NFL players and thousands of high school and college players.
The company is now turning their attention to the military community and making a helmet to better protect our troops.
Last year, the startup signed a contract with the U.S. Army to redesign part of its helmets, co-founder and CEO Dave Marver revealed. The company has been working in stealth to incorporate some of its football helmet technology into the standard issue helmets worn by Army and Marine Corps troops.
U.S. military helmets are optimized for ballistic protection, meaning defense against bullets and shrapnel. Yet roughly 80 percent of head injuries in the military occur in nondeployed settings where those things generally aren’t an issue. Instead, these injuries tend to be of the blunt force variety, incurred from incidents like jumping out of aircraft or striking one’s head during drills or combat training.
In 2016, medical staff from Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Seattle approached Vicis about trying to improve the blunt impact performance of both the Army and Marine combat helmets, which are similar to one another.
That team operated behind the scenes throughout the past two years. Initially, Vicis funded the work itself, but last year the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center offered the startup a development contract. The company is also starting to raise an approximately $15 million Series B round, which will bring its total funding near $80 million.
For now, Vicis’s work focuses on the pads on the interior of the helmet. The Zero1 football helmet has a layer that consists of hundreds of columns that bend on impact. “The technology inside the pads leverages those same engineering principles,” Marver says.
The improvements have been measurable. Vicis tested its pads in a lab setting using Department of Defense test protocols earlier this year, and the startup says its version performed between 30 and 55 percent better than each model the U.S. military currently uses
While the results are very encouraging, the design is probably still a year or two away. The Army is doing its own testing and Vicis designed the pads so that they could fit into the ballistic helmets without need a total redesign. Existing helmets can be retrofitted with the pads if adopted.
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