The next great breakthrough in concussion prevention may have been unveiled during an episode of Jeopardy! five years ago. In 2011, IBM signed up its new system, Watson, to be a contestant on the iconic gameshow to see how quickly it could process data in real time. IBM Watson is a cognitive computing system, meaning it can understand and interact with humans through either the spoken or written word.
IBM researchers discovered that not only can Watson understand humans, but it’s actually smarter. The system, which would take a question and come up with an answer within three seconds, beat Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive games of Jeopardy! in 2004.
“The usage we focused on with Jeopardy! was using it to answer questions incredibly quickly. It would take a question –– usually a fairly complicated questions with tricks embedded in the grammar of the question –– and very quickly understand what exactly was being asked,” says Steve Abrams, the Director of the Watson ecosystem. “It scanned through its data incredibly quickly and came up with a number of candidate answers, scoring each of those them across over 100 different characteristics and then analyzing how confident it was in each answer.”
Half a decade later, cognitive computing systems have evolved to the point where they can perform 30 different services. Companies are using these services to develop new applications for various areas, including monitoring the state of the human body. In late 2015, IBM Watson announced a partnership with a Connecticut-based startup, Triax Technologies, in search of using its cognitive applications to improve athlete performance and try to prevent head injuries. The Watson technology will be used in conjunction with Triax’s quarter-sized headband sensor and app, the SIM-P, that measures trauma data.
“I started this a few years ago with my father and we were looking around the media and saw a bunch of press on head injuries,” says Chad Hollingsworth, CEO of Triax. “We have some close family friends and family members who have suffered pretty debilitating concussions in sports like soccer and snowboarding. And we thought, ‘There has to be a better way to track what’s going on with your head in these sports.’”
With that idea in mind, Triax set out to build a sensor that attempts to add a layer of objectivity to head trauma and concussion evaluations. Triax’s sensor fits in a headband or skullcap, and registers impact data each time its user is hit in the head. Any time the impact registers above a certain threshold, that information is sent to a device on the sideline. The data can be obtained on smart phones and other pieces of technology.
“As a parent with three children I’m exposed first-hand to some of these problems,” Abrams says. “I think head trauma is an area that’s poorly understand –– particularly by parents. There’s not a clarity to them about what constitutes a head trauma. But there’s tremendous amounts of data that’s out there, but just not accessible. So imagine if I could dial up a computer system like Watson and ask questions to make me a more informed parent.”
So far, Hollingsworth says Triax’s sensor is being used by more than 5,000 athletes and 50 schools nationwide. Youth sports is the area Triax is most heavily focusing on, considering how susceptible kids are to long-term brain damage if they withstand a large number of hits early in their lives.
“Ninety-nine percent of kids playing youth sports are going to need their brain to function in a career environment,” Hollingsworth says. “They’re not going to be pro athletes. Having this data is going to be important to make sports safer for kids.”
Research shows there’s a direct correlation between the number of times a person is hit in the head and his or her chances of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease known as CTE. With that piece of knowledge in mind, Hollingsworth says it only makes sense to try to limit the amount of hits kids take while playing youth sports.
“The easiest thing to compare it to is a pitch count in little league baseball,” Hollingsworth says. “A 12-year-old may only be allowed to throw 70 pitches in a game and then they have to sit. That’s based on the idea that less wear and tear on a 12-year-old’s arm is better than more.
“It’s the same concept here. Less hits to these developing brains is better than more.”
Alex Reimer the original author and Forbes the original publisher.Republished with permission.