New adhesive wearable aims to reduce brain injuries in athletes

A new adhesive wearable device that monitors acceleration and vital signs could change the way athletes and health professionals deal with head trauma.

SportFitz, a Waterloo, Ont.-based startup, announced its Fitz Brain Injury Reduction System in November. While the market has seen its fair share of wearables designed to monitor brains for trauma, the Fitz stands out with its adhesive capacity and ability to measure acceleration and deceleration, as well as vital signs, such as heart rate, and the environment in which the wearer is in.

The battery-powered device is a chip of hardware embedded in a reusable adhesive material, which is meant to be stuck to the bone behind the ear. Essentially, it “measures the impact and speed of the brain smashing against the skull,” says Diane Matyas, a global engagement executive and one of the founders of SportFitz.

“Anyone can put a sensor on a helmet, but we wanted it to actually stick on the skin for better data readings and to increase our range of potential clients,” Matyas explains.

The device was created in response to Rowan’s Law, a piece of legislation protecting youth from concussions that was passed by the government of Ontario in June 2016 in response to an Ottawa high school student who died from brain trauma sustained while playing rugby. Neither rugby, nor boxing – two of the initial sports that spurred SportFitz to create the device – involve helmets, Matyas points out, which is why she was so adamant on developing one that sticks to skin. One of the company’s partners and ambassador is Fitz “The Whip” Vanderpool, a world boxing champion.

Fitz “The Whip” Vanderpool.

Fitz reduces the incidence and impact of both major and minor concussive events in sports “through access to real-time data optimizing, training and improving player safety. By identifying critical events in real time, players can be evaluated immediately before subsequent events can cause more serious damage minimizing short term risks,” the company says in its press release announcing the device.

Using radio frequency, the device connects to the Microsoft Azure cloud, which can allow data to stream directly to medical personnel. The company says that by the time it is available on the market, the device will be paired with a mobile phone application that can send wearers notifications directly.

“The creation of a notification system for the player, patient or wearer and for any medical staff around that might need that information, is coming,” explains a SportFitz silent partner, who wishes to remain anonymous. “For instance, when a player gets hit beyond the level that’s safe for them, and really shouldn’t be playing anymore, we can send them a notification saying exactly that. When they get hit hard and should probably be cautious, but don’t necessarily need to stop playing altogether, they will get a different notification. We’re trying to use this information to help the player make better decisions about their health.”

The device is currently being miniaturized – the aim is to get the patch to the size of a quarter or smaller, Matyas says – and undergoing final tests. She is working with adhesive companies to find the best way to adhere the hardware to skin without resulting in a reaction and can still be reused and applied at any time. She guesses that the adhesive will be silicon based, but nothing has been finalized yet.

Matyas says that she expects sports teams – ranging from professional to amateur to university – to be early adopters, but adds that hospitals and innovation centres could also benefit from the Fitz device.

The first 100 units are in the process of being built and the company hopes to have it available on the retail market by the end of Q1 next year. The device will retail for approximately $80-$100.

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Mandy Kovacs
Mandy Kovacs
Mandy is a lineup editor at CTV News. A former staffer at IT World Canada, she's now contributing as a part-time podcast host on Hashtag Trending. She is a Carleton University journalism graduate with extensive experience in the B2B market. When not writing about tech, you can find her active on Twitter following political news and sports, and preparing for her future as a cat lady.

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