Does a Hedgehog hold the key to Reducing Head Injury Risk?


Over the past decade, scientists have made significant discoveries in understanding the true impact of concussions on the brain. Research uncovering the lasting long-term effects of head trauma has led to increased attention on the subject. Concussions have inspired a Hollywood film, a decline in participation in high-contact sports like football, and a re-examination of the practices and technology put in place to prevent them. Hedgemon in Cleveland is tackling the problem using a familiar design: the tried and true defense system of the hedgehog.

“There’s a lot of interest in this space right now,” said Doug Paige, co-founder and Chief Design Officer. “The cause of concussions comes from that sudden deceleration which leads to the brain slamming against the skull, resulting in trauma. A good solution needs to focus on better controlling that deceleration. Our team has an idea of how we can do that.”

The idea for Hedgemon’s technology initially came from a project in an Industrial Design course Paige taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art with the University of Akron. Using a method called biomimicry, the design of materials and structures modeled off of living organisms, students explored impact-reducing characteristics found in the wild. Hedgehogs, who are active tree climbers, have quills that absorb energy upon impact and protect the hedgehog when they fall from heights. Modeled after the quills on a hedgehog’s pelt, the team experimented with polymers extending from a support structure to absorb impact.

The Hedgemon team is now prototyping 3D-printed polymer liners for football helmets to test the technology’s ability to minimize brain trauma in a sport characterized by head-to-head collisions. It’s a high-profile test case that will help validate the biomimicry-discovered solution and guide the company’s growth. Down the road, Paige sees Hedgemon expanding to a wider range of applications.

“This started as a class project, but it was immediately a project you could feel had much more potential. A couple of students took the idea to a business class and began the process of outlining the problem and solution, and together we formed an LLC,” said Paige. “We’re taking that a step further now and incorporating our company, seeking support and really investing our time into it.”

For support in the early stages of company-building, Hedgemon participated in Flashstarts’ 2018 accelerator program, an Ohio Third Frontier partner in Cleveland. Alongside Flashstarts advisors, the team is ramping up its efforts by preparing to test the helmet’s technology at a certified football helmet testing lab, which is located right at home in northeast Ohio—one of only a handful in the country.  Paige says that’s just one reason Ohio is perfect for Hedgemon.

“This whole process has been about collaboration. Collaboration between faculty and students across different disciplines like design, engineering and biology, then leaning on support from grants and now programs like Flashstarts,” said Paige. “We’re realizing just how much people are interested in seeing companies succeed in Ohio.”

Originally published on TechOhio.