A young Aucklander has won a top technology prize for a concussion-detecting mouthguard as the evidence for links between concussion and dementia continues to grow.
Spencer Buchanan, a 22-year-old Massey University industrial design graduate, has designed a mouthguard with motion sensors, worn by rugby players to identify concussion risks after the player has taken a knock.
Buchanan, from Warkworth, won the New Zealand leg of the James Dyson Award, a global product design competition. He has been given $4000 to develop his invention.
"I've always been immersed in the rugby culture and played quite a bit of rugby growing up, actually suffering concussions," Buchanan said. "Rugby and concussion is a topical issue that is constantly under the spotlight.
"With wearable technology an emerging trend in contact sport, it was a perfect opportunity to combine my industrial design knowledge and look to find a solution to the problem."
Existing head gear protected players only against cuts and abrasions and not concussion, Buchanan said.
Mouthguards could help absorb the shock of a big knock, but it was debatable whether they could prevent a concussion.
The mouthguard, called Nerve, uses motion sensors which detect knocks to the head that are missed by the human eye. If an athlete wearing the mouthguard is hit hard enough, the sensors communicate wirelessly to the team doctor's tablet. Using an algorithm, the risk is calculated by measuring the impact and where it was located and the player's previous concussion history to determine whether the player should return to the field.
A NZ Herald investigation into the links between rugby and dementia in March found a disproportionate number of former Taranaki rugby stars suffering from the condition. The common thread: concussion after concussion in their younger days playing rugby.
Head judge Mike Jensen said Buchanan's design addressed a topical issue for New Zealand sport.
"We must be coming close to a culture change with an older generation of All Blacks linked with dementia. What is exciting about Spencer's design is that he's developed an entire system encompassing sensors in a fully sealed, non-corrosive mouthguard, a charger unit and an app."
Five New Zealand entries will progress to the international James Dyson Award competition with the chance to win $60,000.