Babies fall all the time while learning to stand up and walk. They often laugh when they fall, particularly if they land on their padded butt. Older people sometimes fall but seldom laugh about it, even if they are wearing the same type of padding. Falls are the most common cause (95%) of the 300,000 fractured hips suffered each year by Americans 65 and older. Older women, who also have osteoporosis more often than men, experience 75% of hip fractures requiring hospitalization. Hip replacement surgery technology advances aside, recovering from broken hip surgery is difficult. According to the CDC, many people are no longer able to live independently after hip replacement surgery.
We’ve looked at NC State’s use of virtual reality to detect muscular weaknesses that lead to falls. We’ve seen the Smart Moore Balance Brace that collects wearer data to inform healthcare professionals about the potential for falls. The two former tech applications focus on early detection and prediction. The ActiveProtective airbag belt claims to help protect hips during falls. Another potential fall protection tech development comes from what could be considered an unlikely source: a race car company. McLaren may be best known for its brand of supercars and F1 race cars developed with Honda. The McLaren Group has several divisions, including McLaren Applied Technologies, focused on advanced tech, innovation, and design. On request from an unnamed private client, McLaren’s tech group developed the Project Invincible shield.
As you’ll see if you watch the video above, the shield doesn’t protect hips. The client wanted a design to protect his vital organs after surgery. The wearable is a wraparound vest that uses the newest impact containment and energy displacement composite materials available. These are the same materials used for next season’s next generation Formula 1 race cars to protect drivers. The specific materials in the Invincible shield include “high-failure strain Dyneema fibers” for damage containment: fibers commonly used in the latest protective body armor such as worn by professional racers and motorcycle riders. Other materials include woven fabrics with ” a highly-toughened resin system” for impact resistance. Zylon fibers are used by all F1 teams on their car for protection against penetration. Carbon fibers help with rigidity and load-bearing capacity. According to McLaren Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adam Hill, “The common thread in all of our projects is data. We use data to build a digital picture of how a patient is performing or recovering, and then create solutions, or in the case of the Project Invincible, devices, to aid our users.”
It may take a while for bespoke protective solutions such as this to show up in hip protection for older people. In the meantime, however, McLaren continues to test new prototypes in the same labs where they crash test race cars. From another perspective, Formula 1 racing may garner new fans eager to get a sense of what they’ll be wearing on their hips in the coming years.