Mouth guards instrumented with sensors to capture information about head impacts to players. (NFL Photo via UW)

The University of Washington is joining three other research universities as part of a National Football League program designed to collect data and help inform the prevention of head injuries in the sport of football.

UW players will have the opportunity to wear custom-fit mouthguards with sensors. Players at the universities of Alabama, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Wisconsin are also participating.

The sensors collect kinematic data, including impact speed, direction, force, location and severity, according to the NFL’s announcement on Tuesday. The league uses the data to work toward injury reduction and decrease head impacts overall. Some of the information informs rules changes or advancement of better-performing equipment, like position-specific helmets.

“We’re pleased to be part of this collaborative player-safety initiative,” said Dr. Kimberly Harmon, professor of family medicine and orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “I look forward to collecting data that ultimately improves our ability to protect football players from head trauma at all levels — youth, high school, college and professional.”

The NFL launched the mouthguard sensor program in 2019 as part of the league’s $60 million commitment under its Engineering Roadmap to promote health and safety initiatives. Mouthguards are currently used by players at 10 NFL clubs and the partnership with the four universities is expected to expand to additional universities in the future.

It’s not the first time the Huskies have turned to a mouth guard to measure head impacts. In 2016, the UW helped test a device built by Kirkland, Wash.-based i1 Biometrics