When the eight-time champions of Australian rugby wanted to find a better way to monitor their player’s conditions — especially potential concussions — they turned to engineering professor Dr. Jamie Grunlan at Texas A&M University. The team already has smart jerseys for their players, but these require an external battery pack to operate, which the players do not like. Unlike American football, rugby players do not wear a lot of protective gear in which wearable technology devices can be hidden (such as helmets or shoulder pads).
Grunlan and his colleagues are investigating plastic composites that have thermoelectric properties. The difference in temperature between the player’s body and the ambient air can produce enough electricity to power wireless sensors.
The goal is to develop a system that can measure everything from hydration levels to the magnitude and direction of forces from collisions, which could be used to detect possible concussions or other injuries. The energy harvesting material will be the key to the project, and if they are successful, it could have far-reaching applications beyond just professional sports Down Under.