Feb. 15, 2008 Brycen Spencer, an engineering student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has designed a safety helmet that could help save the lives of thousands of outdoor sports enthusiasts involved in accidents each year. His Wireless Impact Guardian, or WIG, which signals for help even when the wearer is unconscious, is a giant leap forward in helmet safety.
“The WIG will be activated when it is buckled on,” says Spencer. “If you fall and hit your head, the helmet will detect that and beep for a minute or so. If you don’t turn it off, WIG sends for help, either directly to 911 or to a third-party service that relays the emergency call to 911. Included with the message will be a GPS location giving your geographical coordinates so the emergency team knows precisely where you are.”
Nicknamed “The OnStar of Helmets,” Spencer’s WIG would be a boon for motorcyclists, bicyclists, ATV enthusiasts and others, especially those venturing into remote areas. There were 113,900 ATV injuries requiring emergency room treatment in 2002 and 76,000 motorcycle-related injuries in 2004. In many instances, victims had to wait a long time for emergency response crews to find them.
At this time, the WIG has no competition. A similar invention on the market is a personal locator beacon that skiers and others use in case of accidents, but this device must be manually activated. There is also a football helmet that detects if the wearer suffers a concussion, but nothing on the market phones for help automatically like the WIG.
Spencer has started a seed-stage business with a business plan that recently won a $1,250 prize from the Executive Summary Competition in the UMass Amherst Technology Innovation Challenge. Last spring he also won $1,250 from the Grinspoon Foundation for Entrepreneurship, whose scholarship provides monetary awards to students who demonstrate the “entrepreneurial spirit” and who have a strong desire to own their own businesses. Spencer has also invested $2,500 of his own money, no small amount for a student, in a one-year Provisional Patent that will lead, patent pending, to a 20-year Utility Patent.
Spencer has used all the prize money to buy the inner workings for his helmet, including an accelerometer to detect any impact that exceeds a predetermined safety level and a communications device to provide the user’s location for rescue crews. All the electronics are small and relatively inexpensive, allowing them to fit in the current helmet configuration with little physical modification or increase in overall helmet price.
In January, Spencer was invited to the Advanced Invention to Venture (AI2V) workshop in intensive entrepreneurship held for student business teams from UMass Amherst. The AI2V workshop was hosted by Robert Hyers of the UMass Amherst mechanical and industrial engineering department and sponsored by several campus groups including the Isenberg School of Management, the College of Engineering, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, the UMass Amherst Innovation System and the UMass Entrepreneurship Initiative. All these entities are working closely to help student entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.
After the success he’s already enjoyed with his invention, and with all the help he’s getting on campus to incubate his new business, Spencer is convinced his WIG is an idea whose time has come.
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