A Dearborn, Mich.-based manufacturing company aims to prevent injuries for football players from the ground up. By focusing on football fields' turf, Viconic Sporting Inc. won a grant Dec. 3 of up to $1 million for firms developing technology to maintain athletes' brain health.
These funds come from the Head Health Initiative, a collaboration of the National Football League, sportswear company Under Armour and General Electric.
Viconic, which uses thermoformed polypropylene to absorb impact beneath artificial turf, was among the three final winners from the second Head Health Challenge, which funds technology with the potential to improve head safety for football players.
Viconic, a subsidiary of auto supplier The Oakwood Group, won $750,000 and may receive up to $1 million from the challenge depending on its ability to reach certain benchmarks, according to the NFL. It received $500,000 last year after winning the first phase of the challenge, said Oakwood's sales and marketing director Matt Gerwolls.
The award-winning design will prevent injuries through implementing an underlayer in synthetic turf systems, he said.
“The Viconic Sporting product is a technology that's totally different from what's in fields today,” Gerwolls said. “Most turfs currently do not have any underlying padding, so the addition of an underlayer of padding is going to significantly reduce concussions and leg injuries. Our technology is going to be very effective at doing that.”
Gerwolls described the turf innovation as a “technology loop.” Oakwood, also based in Dearborn, has produced niche products within the automotive industry since its founding in 1945. Its patented PP maintains passenger safety by distributing the energy impact caused by car crashes across the vehicle's doors and headliners, reducing potential injuries when a passenger hits it.
That same innovation has given rise to its newfound sports tech, Gerwolls said. The plastics developed to boost passenger safety will do the same for football players, he said, and Viconic's advancement will likely return to help auto products. Its applications stretch to defense, an industry Oakwood already services, and flooring in playgrounds or hospitals.
The two other winners of Head Health Challenge II say they will support player safety through novel football helmet designs. The University of Washington is developing a helmet that will better absorb head impacts, while the Army Research Laboratory proposes rate-dependent tethers to fix the head to the body when hit at high speeds.