The Jolt Sensor: detecting concussions in young athletes

This thumb-sized, wearable sensor is making sport safer.

Athletes who suffer a blow to the head need to be extra vigilant. It is often the second or third hit that can lead to serious, long-term brain damage. Considered a growing epidemic among young athletes, undetected head impacts and concussions can have fatal consequences. Because there is no standardisation of concussion care, they often go unnoticed, and a mentality that athletes need to be tough prevents them from asking for help. A new diagnostic tool called the Jolt Sensor hopes to aid in the prevention of this damage.

Jolt Sensor

Developed by MIT-alumni Ben Harvatine and Seth Berg, the Jolt Sensor is a small, clip-on device that fits onto almost any form of athletic headgear or clothing and measures the severity of impact sustained by its wearer. A connected mobile app monitored by parents or coaches is then fed information on the severity of the sustained blow, making them better able to determine whether a player should be taken out of the game or not.

A long-time wrestler who developed several head injuries over the course of his sporting career, Harvatine conceptualised the device for a class after he suffered a concussion that originally went unnoticed – a dangerous and potentially deadly oversight. “We can’t be overly diagnostic,” he told MIT of the Jolt Sensor, “But we do our best to communicate the urgency that that was a big hit and you need to check out the player.”

Jolt Sensor

The device includes two accelerometers that carefully measure the wearer’s movement and speed of movement. It then produces data able to indicate the intensity of the impacts experienced by the athlete that is sent to an app tracking each member of the team fitted with the sensor. Players that sustain the biggest hits or the most hits are filtered to the top of the list and the name turn red if data indicates a need for physical evaluation. The app includes a cognitive assessment test and a concussion symptom checklist.

As sports-related head injuries in children appear to be on the rise, the need for closer monitoring of their injuries is becoming crucial. The American Academy of Pediatrics has reported that emergency room visits for concussions in children between 8 and 13 years old has doubled, and concussions have risen 200 percent among teenagers 14 to 19 in the last decade. A 2012 study published by ScienceDirect, indicated that soccer has the highest injury rate per athlete-exposure among 7 to 13 year old children. Says Harvatine, “We’re trying to give parents and coaches another tool to make sure they don’t miss the big hits, or maybe catch a hit that doesn’t look that bug but measures of the charts.”

The thumb-sized devices began shipping in September 2015 following a successful Kickstarter campaign that generated over $60, 000 in under 31 days. They are currently being sold online for $99 each.

Jolt Sensor

Jolt Sensor

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