February 11, 2008


UMass Amherst engineering student Brycen Spencer shown with his safety helmet invention.

A university student has developed a helmet that automatically calls for help if the wearer is knocked unconscious.

While Brycen Spencer's new technology has been built into motorcycle helmets, there is nothing to stop its adaptation to horse riding helmets.

The engineering student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst believes the innovation could help save the lives of thousands of outdoor sports enthusiasts involved in accidents each year.

His Wireless Impact Guardian, or WIG, signals for help even when the wearer is unconscious.

"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 [emergency services] or to a third-party service that relays the emergency call.

"Included with the message will be a GPS location giving your geographical coordinates so the emergency team knows precisely where you are."

Spencer's WIG is likely to find a reader market among motorcyclists, horse riders, cyclists, quad bike enthusiasts - in fact anyone who requires protective headgear, especially if they venture into remote locations.

At this time, the WIG is believed to have 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 an American 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 and has already won two awards for innovation and entrepreneurship as a result of the invention.

Spencer has invested $US2500 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 his prize money thus far - $US2500 - 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.

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.