MIT Alum Develops Sensor to Help Athletes Monitor Hard Hits

Recent news about NFL players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has brought national attention to the risks associated with concussions sustained while playing sports. Amid growing concerns about the consequences of repeat concussions, many are searching for solutions to make contact sports safer for athletes.

No stranger to concussions himself, MIT alum Ben Harvatine has developed a device that monitors hard hits on the field and helps athletes make informed decisions about returning to play.

Harvatine conceived of the idea for the Jolt Sensor during his time as a college wrestler. In his junior year at MIT, Harvatine suffered a concussion at practice that resulted in memory loss and an arduous recovery. The following semester Harvatine was determined to develop a product that would help other athletes avoid this experience.

“Even if the injury itself couldn’t have been prevented, I felt that the severity of it and the recovery process could have been significantly mitigated,” explained Harvatine. “So I put sensors on my wrestling headgear and went back to the mat to gather data.”

It was then that Harvatine conceived of the Jolt Sensor, a wearable sensor that measures head acceleration, characterizes impact, and gives real-time alerts to athletes and coaches.

In 2014 Harvatine and his young product were accepted into Masschallenge, on the heels of which he launched a Kickstarter campaign that successfully hit its $60,000 fundraising goal. Business then moved for a period to St. Louis, after the company was awarded a $50,000 non-diluted grant from a non-profit. After connecting with local Midwestern manufacturers and graduating with the TechStars class of 2015 in Kansas City, operations moved back to Boston and Harvatine began taking live orders.

In its current iteration, the Jolt sensor is a clip-shaped device that can be attached to a variety of athletic headgear. It characterizes impacts over their entire acceleration curve, and, if it determines that the impact could potentially be associated with an injury, it vibrates on the player’s head and pushes an alert to a connected app via a custom version of Bluetooth that can send data over 200 yards.

The sensor captures data on impacts of all sizes, which allows athletes and coaches to have deeper insights about cumulative impacts on the field. “We don’t just focus on the moment of injury,” says Harvatine. “As it sees players accumulating smaller impacts, Jolt will spin those into an aggregate statistic so that coaches and trainers and parents have an easy way to track trends in their athlete’s general impact exposure, day to day, week to week, and month to month.”

Furthermore, the app has the added benefit of allowing coaches and athletes to capture data on the sidelines, including symptoms identified during an evaluation, return to play decisions, diagnosis, and recovery.

So far, this end-to-end system of data capture has been popular with consumers. With any luck, Harvatine’s Jolt Sensor will get the chance to help many more athletes make informed decisions before stepping back onto the field.

Abigail Ballou

Abigail Ballou

    Abby Ballou is the managing editor of MedTech Boston. She has a B.A. and M.Phil in English literature from NYU and the CUNY Graduate Center, respectively. When she isn't writing and editing for MedTech Boston, Abby enjoys reading, rock climbing, watching classic movies and listening to opera.

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