I am a mom, first and foremost. Right now I am an angry mom, because I have a daughter with a concussion, caused by an accident that was no fault of her own. And because I am a mom who works with MEMS (MicroElectroMechanicalSystems), I have started thinking about how MEMS might have prevented, as well as detected her concussion sooner.
First let me back up and tell you the story of what happened because I think it’ll help you understand my frustration. I have been a skier most of my life, and since we started skiing as a family three years ago, my two girls (ages eight and 11) have become great skiers, practicing safe and controlled skiing. And yes, the whole family wears helmets.
Recently we went skiing in Western PA. And while I will spare you the gruesome details, as you can see from the picture I am sharing with you, our ski trip did not end well. Basically my eight-year-old daughter was hit by the equivalent of a 225-pound out-of-control freight train on skis, as he snowballed down the mountain and took out my daughter. Now my daughter has near-constant headaches, is tired most of the day, can’t read without pain and will likely miss up to a month of school.
Ski patrol did a good job of assessing her on the mountain, and on the day of the collision she showed no signs of concussion. Her symptoms only started the next day when she fell asleep in class ten minutes into the school day. Only later did I learn that this is quite common, complicating the detection and diagnosis of concussion. In fact there is a lot of confusion when it comes to concussion and that’s what got me thinking about MEMS in many ways.
Accident Prevention - MEMS Motion Sensors
First I started thinking about the idiots that caused the accident. (There were two of them who collided and then one took out my daughter.) With MEMS motion sensor technology like that developed by Xsens and Movea, I envision myself as “vigilante ski mom” seeing lunatic skiers or inebriated skiers. When I see them, I would tag them with a motion sensor that can recognize gestures and would wirelessly send data to ski patrolalerting them when the skier is exhibiting inexperienced skier gestures and on a double-black diamond.
Watch this Xsens video to get a sense of what I am talking about. Then watch this video of Movea’s motion sensor technology featured by Venture Beat at CES to see why I think this could work – maybe even by putting sensors into ski lift tickets. Think about it, when you buy a lift ticket, you agree to the “skier responsibility code” – which means you will ski at your level and won’t mow down other skiers; MEMS technology developed by Movea and Xsens could help enforce it.
@GlobalPMO: I do agree with the concerns you mention above. What I meant by 'correlated' above is MEMS' data is this: in general they correlate to a few data points but NOT the entire envelope. Depending on the physical / chemical / biological action the MEMS products can sense, their accuracy may be better in some scenarios. It is therefore difficult to accept them as defacto replacements for more accurate analog / non-MEMS counterparts.
MEMS are convenient, they fit easily into an application-rich platform like mobiles. But that should not necessitate the practitioners of professions to abandon their conventional methods of investigations, assessments, diagnostics and treatments/corrective actions.
UPDATE: Because so many of you have been so lovely in your thoughts and prayers for my daughter I wanted to let you know that she is doing much better, a month+ since the accident. She is now back to school, though on a modified schedule and workload. She is back to being her normal adorable eight-year-old self which is a great relief to her family (though challenging at times to her older sister!). Thank you and I am glad that this blog helped you think about sports, safety and MEMS. best, Karen
I might have left this note earlier but in case it did not go through, Kudos on a positive and impactful analysis and call-to-action arising from a tragedy. I hope much good comes of it. There ought to be DUI-like loss of skiing priveleges for such offenders. Prayers for a full and speedy recovery for your daughter.
@karenlightman - I hope your daughter is on track for a speedy and full recovery. My heart goes out to you and your family. I have personal experience with loved ones having concussions (plural) and I know what a difficult time you're facing. I wish you all the best.
@MP Davikar - You stated one of the concerns I have with using MEMS' sensed data for concussion detection. The 'correlation' studies that would have to occur before we could have a confidence interval we could reply upon at the accuracy level parents and medical professionals would demand, would be highly complex. One of my doctors once told me that data is a good indicator, but we look at the patient and examine the symptoms and listen to the feedback of how the patient is feeling, to make our interpretations. I guess it's best to say we have a lot of technology at our fingertips, but it may be a while before we will have sufficient data to have the confidence that we can rely on it without the risk of missing critical detections. False positives aren't the problem. It's the false negatives that are at risk. Thanks for sharing your insights.
Thank you everyone for your kind words and thoughts for my daughter's recovery. Thankfully she is doing better; now nearly a month after the accident. I am truly humbled.
BUT back to MEMS....I am also impressed by those of you (like Calin) who have the tinker-er inside of you and are thinking of better ways to make the sport safer, using MEMS. I love it. Keep 'em coming!
Thank you again for the great comments - I poured my heart into this blog (as you can tell) and I am pleased to see the reaction.
@FrankEory & karenlightman: I think there is general agreement here about the usefulness of MEMS in situations of sports accidents. How ever, as in this and many other use cases, one must use caution in using results from MEMS' sensed data. The output from MEMS accelerometers will only help to correlate what the physician assesses as the extent of damage / injury. Despite the best efforts of MEMS engineers, their performance in use cases like this is NOT a definitive one! The same argument goes for seismic sensing using smartphones -the accelerometers in those are crude approximations to the real analog ones (like what Endevco makes).
Very sorry to hear about your daughter. I wish her a speedy and full recovery.
Your story resonated well with me as my daughter (now 5) is just picking up skiing. Luckily, the only falls she took were at low speeds without anybody to topple her over. As a result no concussion just frustration. That made me think of MEMS, maybe differently than your story, as performance enabler or virtual trainer. During the day I wished her skies would be “stability control enabled” in that will anticipate her imminent fall, and take the necessary measures to stabilize her ride. Such approach could enable performance which, as Frank pointed in his comment, is likely the main reason for accidents. Enable the system with GPS capability and it could provide the rider an alert that is about to get on a lift with only Black runs coming down or provide slope alternatives more suited for his/her’s level. Practicing skiing is a fun activity and with little technology support most should be able to enjoy it in a safe manner.
Having just returned from a ski trip, your blog caught my attention. Years ago when my son was 5 and we were on a family ski trip, an out of control skier barreled into him while we were standing in the lift line and literally sent him flying. Fortunately my son was not injured, but that was only due to sheer luck. I hope your daughter has a full and speedy recovery.
I agree that putting MEMS accelerometers in ski helments is a great idea. Since this is already being done in helmets for other sports, it seems trivial for the ski/snowboard helmet makers to offer this same capability.
I see numerous problems, however, with the notion of using gesture recognition and motion sensing to police skier/snowboarder behavior. In many respects, this is a much more complicated problem than, for example, assessing driver distraction or unsafe driving behavior. Skiing in control, for example, implies different speed limits for different skier abilities and different slope conditions, including conditions such as how many other skiers are on that run and what are their abilities and behaviors. Also, even expert skiers might still occasionally do things like snowplow (a rookie maneuver), for example on a narrow catwalk that only leads to a double black run. It is difficult to imagine how even an advanced AI system could fairly assess whether that skier is qualified to ski that double black run prior to him doing so, and it is easy to imagine such a system erring on the side of caution -- preemptively flagging skiers who should not be flagged.
My personal observation of skiers & snowboarders losing control is that it is not usually due to stupidity or inebriation, but due to lack of experience -- and the only solution to that is more experience...and more lessons!
I'm very sorry to hear about your daughter. I hope her recovery is quick.
I love your perspective on how MEMS can and will have a positive influence on our lives in many ways we've only begun to think of. We see similar types of "behavioral" solutions now being deployed in automobiles by insurance companies who will offer their drivers discounted rates if they agree to install a MEMS-based monitoring device in their car. This MEMS enabled monitoring device effectively looks for "bad driving" gestures thereby incentivising people to drive more safely.
Imagine all the injuries and accidents which could be avoided.
Kevin - thank you very much for being the first one to comment on the article and taking an interest. Yes, skiing has some element of danger. So does driving a car, walking alongside a road, or riding a bike (even with a helmet). What my article is about is that there is technology out there - MEMS in particular- that can help detect, assess and even perhaps prevent concussion. And to answer your question: YES it IS critically important to understand how hard the brain hits - that helps determine what kind of treatment the patient should receive. "Rest" is not nearly enough for someone who has suffered a concussion - for my daughter - she has to totally REST her brain which means: no more than 30 min. TV/day, no video games, no electronics, no bright lights, no loud sounds, etc.... there is a ton of great info on the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program website: http://www.upmc.com/Services/sports-medicine/services/concussion/program/Pages/default.aspx
thank you - Karen
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