Concussion Sensor Aims for Early Detection

by Nicole Morell on October 20, 2014 · 0 comments

in Athletics, In the News, Modern Geekhood

 Would-be entrepreneurs often look for that aha moment for their next great idea. Founder of Jolt Sensor Ben Harvatine ’12 could have done without his.

Harvatine’s moment came as the result of a serious knock to the head during wrestling practice at MIT.

“Between dehydration and repeated knocks to the head, I didn’t know why I was dizzy,” he shares. Though he had suffered concussions before, this one left him feeling sick for months after. “I mostly hid in my room with the lights off. I couldn’t handle light and noises,” he says.

Several months after the injury, Harvatine took 2.671 Bio Instrumentation Lab. The class includes a project called Go Forth and Measure that instructs students to take measurements on something that interests them. Harvatine knew just what to measure.

He created a device that measures head movement as a way to identify concussions before symptoms occur, so athletes can take the proper steps to address their injury.

“The only thing worse than a concussion happening, is not knowing it’s happening,” Harvatine says.

Harvatine looked to his wrestling gear to help design the device.

The many ways the sensor can be worn. Photo: Jolt Sensors

The many ways the sensor can be worn. Photo: Jolt Sensor

“I threw a bunch of accelerometers on my wresting head gear. It was the first proof of concept that this could be something useful,” he says. These accelerometers worked to collect data on movement as well as impact, helping to identify a concussion.

Harvatine kept working on this proof of concept and launched Jolt Sensor in 2013. He envisioned the sensors helping a range of athletes, specifically young athletes whose development make concussions more dangerous. With the help of former classmate Seth Berg ’14, Harvatine designed a new sensor that can be worn by most athletes.

The new sensor is small—about the size of an iPod shuffle—and clips onto the wearer’s head gear—whether it’s a helmet or a headband. Much like the original prototype, the sensor collects data on movement, but now works in conjunction with a smartphone app. Based on the data collected, the app will alert users of a possible concussion.

“We look for trends—can you see a kid taking repetitive impacts? Can you pick up on a cognitive decline before the kid starts showing concussive symptoms? We believe there is big power behind our data,” he explains.

Harvatine hopes athletes will soon be wearing the sensors. Jolt Sensor recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign and is receiving support from alumni-founded MassChallenge and MIT Venture Mentoring Service.

In addition to mentoring support, Harvatine credits his Go Forth and Measure instructor, Barbara Hughey PhD ’89 for the push to pursue his idea.

“It was the positive experience through that project that drove me to try to do something with it later,” he says.

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