- Zero1 helmets are gaining traction in the NFL and NCAA this season.
- The new helmets act more like a car bumper than a hard shell to reduce the severity of head impacts.
- Vicis hopes its helmets will eventually lead to better long-term health for athletes.
Seattle Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson is wearing a new helmet this year. So is Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.
They're all strapping on equipment from a Seattle-based startup called Vicis that wants to help the NFL and NCAA tackle football's ongoing concussion problem.
The company's Zero1 helmet is made of material that gives on impact and then immediately bounces back. It's more like a car bumper than a hard outer shell. The company says the helmet was designed to "reduce the severity of head impacts," and better protect athletes against a range of head and brain injuries.
A recent study of the brains of deceased NFL football players found signs of degenerative brain disease in 99 percent of former players. As PBS Frontline reported, data also suggest that the risk of long-term, cognitive problems for some players is up to 35 times greater than it is among the general population, thanks to head injuries sustained on the field.
While nothing on the market can completely prevent a concussion, helmets that lessen the impact of a hit are a good thing for an athlete's health.
The Zero1 beat out 32 other helmets in a safety test conducted by the NFL. Players on half of the NFL's teams have opted to wear it. The Texans, Chiefs, Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are the biggest users.
Those who don the Zero1 will find the sound of the game has changed, from "crack" to a "thump," said Vicis CEO Dave Marver, referencing the helmet's unique design and materials.
Vicis has been working on helmet designs and safety testing since 2014. The company now has 65 full-time employees and manufactures its helmets in Seattle.
While individuals can purchase the premium Vicis helmets or sign up to reserve one for purchase later, the Zero1 costs $1,500 today and has primarily sold to college and professional players.
Marver said the company wants to help young athletes, and that a kids' model that costs a lot less is in the works. Vicis also plans to introduce helmets for skiing and other sports within the next couple of years.
Vicis keeps a freezer full of football helmets at its testing facility.
"When you play in Wisconsin, the helmets behave differently than they will in Arizona. We test at both extremes," Marver said.
The start-up has raised over $40 million in the past four years. Investors include current and retired pro athletes, surgeons and team owners.