NFL Awards $491,999 to CU Denver, Impressio, Inc. for Helmet Safety

Grantees plan to 3D-print player-specific helmet liners to reduce concussions

June 30, 2020

NFL Awards $491,999 to CU Denver, Impressio, Inc. for Helmet Safety
Associate Professor Chris Yakacki inspects a football helmet in the SMAB lab.

The National Football League (NFL) and Football Research, Inc. (FRI) today awarded Impressio, Inc., a University of Colorado Denver startup, $491,999 in HeadHealthTECH grant funding. This will support Chris Yakacki, PhD, associate professor in CU Denver’s College of Engineering, Design and Computing and co-founder of Impressio, and his team’s work on the creation of innovative helmet prototypes. These will be submitted as part of the ongoing NFL Helmet Challenge, a contest that has an additional prize of $1 million. Impressio was launched as a startup in 2017 and licenses CU Denver technology developed by Yakacki’s research team. Impressio will be sub-awarding part of the project to CU Denver. Robert Dana Carpenter and Kai Yu, both faculty members of the CU Denver Department of Mechanical Engineering and collaborators of Yakacki, will be leading the CU Denver team.

Yakacki has long been known for being the first to develop a breakthrough in liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) technology. The LCEs form a rubbery material that absorbs energy and dissipates it—a groundbreaking approach for football helmets as it leads to a reduction in concussion risk. By lining football helmets with the patented LCE, Yakacki and his team hope to make helmets better at dissipating the force absorbed during a big hit or collision.

“Concussions, and personal protection more broadly, are a hot topic right now in football as well as many other areas including personal mobility, construction, and defense,” Yakacki said. “People are looking for solutions, and new technology can provide answers. By improving the materials and the way they are designed in helmets, they can absorb and guide energy better, therefore reducing concussion risk and improving comfort for all helmet wearers.”

With the grant, CU Denver and Impressio will work together on additive manufacturing (AM).

CU Denver has launched an initiative in AM that includes new academic offerings and cutting-edge facilities for production AM, anchored by a partnership with Lockheed Martin focused on aerospace manufacturing. 

“This effort will enable CU Denver to enhance its world-class capabilities to investigate additive manufacturing for innovative product design and production,” Yakacki said. “We will literally print multiple full helmet prototypes in a single print, which will rapidly accelerate development and scaling for large-scale production. This is all part of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing’s strategic efforts to promote industry partnerships and innovation and entrepreneurship, building on deep technology developed through research.”

The NFL Helmet Challenge, culminating in July 2021, is a $3 million challenge that aims to stimulate the development of a new helmet for NFL players that outperforms, based on specified laboratory testing, all helmets currently worn by NFL players. Yakacki and his team will use the grant  to bolster their entry into the NFL Helmet Challenge competition.

“By bringing together experts from multiple disciplines, the NFL Helmet Challenge aims to encourage revolutionary advances in helmet design,” said Jeff Miller, NFL Executive Vice President of Communications, Public Affairs and Policy, who oversees the NFL’s health and safety work. “The awardees demonstrated the potential to do just that. We’re very excited to support their efforts and test their prototypes next year. This is one more sign of the recent transformation in the protective equipment space—more in the last couple of years than over the previous decade—and we are committed to keeping this momentum going.”