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Young Inventor Designs Concussion Detecting Mouthguard



A concussion detecting mouth guard has won a Kiwi inventor the top prize in the New Zealand leg of the sixteenth James Dyson Award, a global product design competition that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers.

Spencer Buchanan, a 22 year old Massey University industrial design graduate, has designed amouth guard with motion sensors worn by rugby players to identify concussion risks after the player has taken a rough knock. Spencer takes a prize of $4,000 to help commercialise his invention.

The design utilises inertial motion sensors to identify forces transmitted to the head but missed by the human eye. If an athlete wearing the mouth guard takes an impact over a certain threshold, the sensors communicate wirelessly to the team doctor’s ipad or tablet, and calculates the risk based on an algorithm that measures the impact and where it was located and the player’s previous concussion history to determine whether the player should return to play.

The Warkworth designer says personal experience motivated him to design the system.

“I’ve always been immersed in the rugby culture and played quite a bit of rugby growing up, actually suffering concussions.

“Rugby and concussion is a topical issue that is constantly under the spotlight. Medical professionals confirmed at the start of this design process that existing head gear only protects against cuts and abrasions and not concussion. With wearable technology becoming an emerging trend in contact sport, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to combine my industrial design knowledge and look to find a solution to the problem,” says Spencer.

The judges were unanimous in their decision. Mike Jensen, head judge, said Spencer’s design addresses a topical issue for New Zealand sport and culture.

“We must be coming close to a culture change with an older generation of All Blacks linked with dementia.

“What is exciting about Spencer’s design is that it is not one product; he’s developed an entire system encompassing sensors in a fully sealed, non-corrosive mouth guard, a charger unit and an app. These components also reveal his sensitivity to good design, while offering peace of mind to athletes involved in any contact sport, their medical support and their families,” said Mike.

Spencer has won $4,000[1] from the James Dyson Foundation, and an official fee prize package from the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) tailored to his design’s intellectual property needs, a year’s membership to The Designer’s Institute, and a Dyson vacuum.

Supported by the James Dyson Foundation, the international design award is run in 20 countries andrecognises emerging designers who have developed inventions reflect the Dyson design philosophy, to make products that solve everyday problems.

Five New Zealand entries, including Spencer’s product, and four runner up products, will progress to the international James Dyson Award competition – all have a chance to win the grand winner’s prize of $60,000[2] to put towards commercialising the idea, plus another $10,000[3] for the designer’s university.

The international winner will be selected by inventor of the bagless vacuum, James Dyson and announced on 26 October 2016.

While Spencer has created a proof of concept model, NERVE is at concept stage only and has not been commercialised. See it here: here

The NZ Runners-up

Ready Steady Go: Protective Stabilising Camera Gimbal by Wellington designer Geoff Desborough

Kapiti bred brothers, designer Geoff Desborough and engineer James Desborough have designed a camera gimbal for hand-held filming of action sports. With existing products cumbersome and offering less physical protection, the siblings’ digitally designed and fabricated product is protective, compact, lightweight and user-friendly.

“Our product stabilizes a camera so that filmmakers can get amazing footage of things like action sports, especially where there is a risk of damage to the equipment,” says Geoff, a Massey University graduate.

The judges said the “ergonomics and balance suited outdoor activity” and it was great to see the inventors act on their own personal experiences to intuitively design a product solution they are passionate about.

See Geoff’s design: Ready Steady Go

DR.POW by Wellington designer Cameron Holder

DR.POW (Deployable Rehabilitation Pool for Oiled Wildlife) is a self-deploying, temporary pool that facilitates in the rehabilitation of wildlife during oil spills. The rapid deployment time is vital in an oil spill response.

“DR.POW creates an encompassing solution to address an important issue that impacted New Zealand when the Rena disaster happened,” says Mike Jensen. “Designed in consultation with Wildbase Hospital in Palmerston North, the pool habitat is engineered to self-expand as it fills with water so it minimises labour, while the care and storage of wildlife such as penguins, seals and other birds can happen in a safe environment.”

See Cameron’s invention: Dr Pow

FreeSwim Prothesis by Nelson designer Stuart Baynes

FreeSwim is a swimming prosthesis developed to help lower leg amputees to walk unaided to the pool, dive in, and swim with symmetry and ease. The judges said the biggest problem for lower leg amputees is not swimming, but getting in and out of the pool which requires the assistance of pool lifeguards using a pool wheelchair.

“Wearers can swap out their walking leg for the FreeSwim one, walk unaided to the edge of the pool, and dive in. Once in the water, a sheath slides off revealing the fin and the wearer can swim or job with normal action in a straight line.

The prosthesis can be customised and fabricated at an accessible cost. "It embues confidence and independence previously lacking in existing prosthesis and does an incredible job of enabling people to have a better life," said the head judge.

See the FreeSwim here

[1] Or equivalent of GBP$30,000

[1] Or equivalent of GBP$5000

[1] Or equivalent of GBP $2000


The James Dyson Award is supported by the James Dyson Foundation, a registered charity whose aim is to inspire and excite young people about design engineering.

‘Design something that solves a problem’: the Award challenges young engineers and scientists around the world, to develop their problem solving ideas. This year the award grows across Asia – as bright students from Hong Kong and Taiwan are able to enter for the first time.

The Award celebrates ingenuity, creativity and sustainable engineering. Entrants are encouraged to do more with less, designing with the environment in mind - using fewer raw materials, consuming less energy and creating a technology that will perform better and last for longer.

Five New Zealand entries including NERVE have progressed to the international James Dyson Award competition.

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