By: Maureen Newman, UVC Biomedical Engineering Community Connector.
David Borkholder, PhD, CTO and Founder of BlackBox Biometrics®, Inc., does not follow the status quo. When he applied for a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant in 2009 to study traumatic brain injury (TBI) at Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. Borkholder placed his focus on measuring blast overpressure following an explosion, rather than acceleration.
“At the time, the Army had been working to measure forces associated with blast TBI using acceleration as their main focus,” explained Dr. Borkholder. “Studies concerning the mechanisms of TBI indicate blast overpressure is an important element. There is a rapid change in pressure–a shockfront–that alone can cause TBI.”
With the grant, Dr. Borkholder was able to go from concept to 1,000 physical units deployed in Afghanistan in under a year. “We were testing after only three months of receiving the award,” recalled Dr. Borkholder. “We were continually modifying what we were trying to do in terms of data capture and design. DARPA partnered with us throughout process. Once we had units, Special Operations Units in training exercises gave us incredibly useful feedback regarding the algorithm and the interface.
The end product, BlackBox Biometrics’ Blast Gauge® System, is the first soldier borne system of sensors to measure true blast overpressure. Three sensors are placed on a soldier’s helmet, shoulder, and chest, giving an overall measurement of the overpressure experienced in a blast. “Special Operations Units use the system extensively,” said Dr. Borkholder. Although BlackBox Biometrics’ strongest connections are in the United States military, there is also a significant customer base in Australia, where all of their soldiers in Afghanistan were deployed with the Blast Gauge System, and a growing base in Canada. “Technology adoption in the military is deliberate and slow,” stated Dr. Borkholder. “It usually takes several years of testing, then the military slowly starts to adopt the technology.”
With a strong market hold in the military, Dr. Borkholder says, “We have also expanded into law enforcement, including SWAT teams.” BlackBox Biometrics is also expanding into the sports market with the Linx Impact Assessment System (IAS) designed to monitor head impacts during sports. “Really understanding how impacts correlate to concussion and injury, especially for sub-concussive impacts that accumulate over time, is key,” said Dr. Borkholder. “No one really knows the implications of changes in the brain following an impact, and we need sensing technologies to unravel that.” With two strong product lines related to TBI, BlackBox Biometrics is well suited to meet this need.
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