Seattle-based VICIS unveils new design for football helmets

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SEATTLE (AP) — A new football helmet with an exterior shell that can absorb hits like a car bumper and has four layers of protection was unveiled on Tuesday by Seattle-based VICIS, which hopes the benefit of protection will offset an expensive purchase price.

The company introduced the helmet at the AFCA convention in San Antonio this week. The ZERO1 helmet is expected to be available for testing by NCAA and NFL teams this spring with the idea that it will be available for purchase and use for the 2016 football season, according to VICIS CEO Dave Marver.

"We've had the benefit of being able to talk to NFL and NCAA equipment managers, athletic trainers and players over the last couple of years. I didn't expect the reaction would be all that different. The helmet passes the eye test or the mirror test so to speak which for some people is a surprise because when they hear it's a safer helmet they assume it's going to be an ugly helmet and it's anything but."

The unveiling of the helmets comes after two years of research and development by the company. The helmet has its origins in a collaboration between the University of Washington departments of mechanical engineering and neurological surgery. That initial research eventually led to the development of VICIS as the commercial partner and exclusive licensee of the resulting intellectual property.

The four-layer design includes two separate shells — the exterior shell that is designed to absorb impact and an interior shell that helps with proper fitting. In between the two shells are absorbent columns designed to accept hits from various angles. The final layer is on the interior of the helmet and features memory foam to help create individual fitting for each player.

The first practical testing for the company will come this spring when the helmets are made available to a handful of Power Five colleges and NFL teams for additional field research. For all the controlled impact tests the company has completed, this spring will be the first widespread on-field tests.

The top-of-the-line helmet manufactured by VICIS will cost about $1,500, which is significantly more than what the majority of helmets cost. Marver said there is a more affordable model being designed for high school and youth players to be unveiled in 2017 and the professional and college teams he's spoken with have not been dissuaded by the high cost.

"People understand the sport needs better equipment. The sport needs better and different solutions and they understand we have taken a very scientific approach to this," Marver said. "We've invested millions of dollars into (research and development) in something that is new and different and better. And they understand the importance of head health."

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