With the Super Bowl just days away, a UK company believes its new 3D-printed material will make footballers' helmets of the future safer. Jim Drury reports.
This 3D-printed material could help American football stars avoid brain injuries. C3 was designed by researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge universities. It's made of multi-layered, thermoplastic elastomer folds, and based on origami. Supercomputers help the material cope with various impacts. SOUNDBITE (English) LEAD AUTHOR, DR PETER THEOBALD, CARDIFF UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "The supercomputers serve to allow us to run a series of simulations. When we find a simulation that we're happy with that looks promising we then go through a process to prototype it, so we then use our 3D printers to produce something and we go and test that in the laboratory facilities by doing a physical impact. We then link that physical data back to our computational data to demonstrate that it's valid and then we can continue to iterate our various designs computationally." The team says C3 is superior to the polymer foams currently used. It absorbs the energy from multiple collision types. A quarter million dollar grant from US football league the NFL will allow the material to be developed in helmets by manufacturers Charles Owen. It could also be used in motorcycle helmets. SOUNDBITE (English) RAFAEL SANTIAGO, UNIVERSITY OF SAO PAOLO, SAYING: "This material is the future. I think with this kind of material we can more than improve the performance of the helmet but we can design a specific helmet, for example, for each head in the world." If printed on metal, researchers say C3 could be used to cover military vehicles and stop them from being blown up. But it's the NFL where most interest lies. A high-impact sport, players experience repeated concussions and blows to the head, which have been linked to the brain trauma chronic traumatic encephalopathy.