many small scale models of football helmets

The Opportunities and Challenges of a Concussion-Detecting Monitor

Reebok has developed a product that represents a fantastic example of the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle of design. And since I am such a fan of this principle, I want to use it as a subject for discussion today.

The product is called The Checklight and was featured in the October issue of Fast Company.

When representatives from Reebok and the electronics design firm MC10, both based near Boston, began looking for a youth sports team to test out their concussion-detecting monitor, they started in their own backyard. The Checklight—a black skullcap embedded with sensors that are optimized to detect dangerous ­impacts—represented thousands of hours of research and collaboration.

Let me start by explaining why the product is so important. I think we all have heard about the devastating prevalence and severity of concussions in sports. Professional sports leagues have invested heavily in technology to mitigate this risk. For example, professional football players have sensors in their helmets that record multi-dimensional linear accelerations and impact forces and feed the data to a sideline information system that analyzes it for concussion risk.

But what are high school and recreational leagues to do? They don’t have the expertise or the funding for this sophistication of analysis. That is where The Checklight comes in. Reebok recognized that coaches really just need to decide among three alternatives:

  • No problem: keep the player in the game
  • Warning: take the player out of the game to be safe
  • Danger: send the player to the emergency room for professional evaluation

So why provide them with overwhelming raw data that they can’t handle? Instead, The Checklight translates the three conditions into a simple traffic light display with the easily interpretable green, yellow, and red. They don’t have to decide at all really. They just follow the guidance of the display.

There are also some unexpected side benefits. By giving the player fast and clear feedback, The Checklight creates some gamification effects. Players don’t want to be taken out of the game, so they change their pre-signal behavior to minimize the chances of getting a yellow or red light. This counters the football culture that glorifies hard hits. More importantly, it substantially increases safety.

Reebok doesn’t ignore the power of Big Data though. If the coach agrees, the data is anonymized and sent to Reebok’s cloud where it is aggregated with other teams’ data to create higher level models and insights. This allows them to learn more about head biomechanics and the results of different data streams on injury incidence. But this complexity is handled by a large corporation with the resources to analyze it rather than a high school football coach.

Of course, as HF practitioners, we know that there are still challenges to simple designs. False alarms could lead to a loss of trust in the system, resulting in it being ignored. Missed signals could lead coaches into a false sense of safety that they might otherwise have questioned. Unexplainable signals (even if correct) could be confusing and be perceived as false alarms.

So what do you think of The Checklight? Do you feel it is too sparse with information that the coach could use? Or do the benefits of simplicity outweigh the other uses that the coach could get from more?

Image credit: Jasmin Fine

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