Helmets Sense The Hard Knocks

Wireless device will let coaches pull football players before they suffer brain damage

5 min read

In the United States' National Football League, SUV-sized men are paid astronomical sums to delight stadium crowds with their ability to run down and demolish the opposing teams' ball carriers. The automotive analogy is quite apt. When they collide, the forces that thickly muscled behemoths such as the San Diego Chargers' Shawne ”Lights Out” Merriman exert on each other regularly exceed 100 times the force of gravity--the kind of jarring that passengers experience in a car crash. The result is roughly 230 000 concussions among professional, college, and youth football players each year.

Concern is growing over the long-term effects of skull-rattling tackles where a brain injury occurs, but the signs--including headache, nausea, and short-term memory loss--are difficult for coaches and trainers to spot; the injuries are unlikely to be reported by players because of the gladiator mentality that makes them keen to shake off any injury and get back into the game.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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