KALAMAZOO, Mich. — This small Midwestern town once known for its paper mills is writing a new chapter as a pioneer in printed electronics. A novel graduate program at Western Michigan University is incubating a handful of projects that are already spawning fledgling startup companies.
One of the most promising of these is SafeSense LLC. Graduate students developed a pressure sensor printed on organic plastics so it can cover the inside of a helmut.
The sensor aims to measure the impact of a bomb blast on a soldier or a tackle on a football player. Data can be relayed over Bluetooth to a smartphone so a team leader will instantly know the severity of an impact. It also can be stored to provide a complete history.
At least two companies currently target this application, but they use an array of solid state sensors that don't cover the entire surface of a helmut. Thanks to sensors printed on different kinds of plastics, the SafeSense design can serve as a coating for the whole helmut.
Grad students (from left) Sai Guruva R. Avuthu, Binu Baby Narakathu, Michael James Joyce, and Ali Eshkeiti developed the SafeSense helmut.
The design current has an estimated cost of materials of about $90. Grad students behind the venture are seeking investments from angels and an SBIR grant to commercialize their work. They also seek a partnership with a company to prototype their design for miniaturized electronics that will fit inside the helmut, enabling their first field tests.
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