January 4, 2021

Man Down: Thales team taking technology from rugby field to battlefield

Welsh research is taking the latest rugby tackle technology and applying it to soldiers

Ebbw Vale/Swansea, 30 December 2020 — Research with industry leader Thales is exploring how the technology behind Swansea based start-up Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA)’s PROTECHT mouth guard, used by professional teams to monitor and manage head impacts on rugby players from big collisions, could be used by military commanders to highlight soldiers who have been injured on exercise and in battle.  

The pioneering PROTECHT technology allows rugby coaches and management to monitor individual impacts and consider these against the total ‘collision load’ on a player through a match, a training week, a period block or entire season. The technology has been pioneered in Wales and is now in use with a number of professional rugby teams across the UK whilst also being utilised in a number of other contact sports. It reports in real time providing the opportunity for immediate intervention. Thales, an expert in technology worn by infantry soldiers and special forces, will assess how it can be incorporated into the communication systems and body armour worn in the field.  The proof of concept work is funded by Thales’s R&D programme, and will take place at the National Digital Exploitation Centre, NDEC, in Ebbw Vale. 

Thales UK’s Gareth Williams, Vice President Secure Communications and Information Systems, said: “If successful, this R&D work could enable commanders to know immediately when individual soldiers have been injured or if there are causes for concern if somebody is not responding during an exercise or on operations.  We potentially could know from the technology they’re wearing that they’ve had an impact through falling, or that they’ve been hit. It could save lives by getting immediate support or medical assistance if someone is in trouble, for example on a night exercise in bad weather or in hostile territory.

He added: “It’s really important to be able to take the best technology developed for normal life, whether that’s on the sports pitch or in our towns and cities, and adapt it for use in other situations that our armed forces face.  Ultimately, it’s all about helping us protect people who keep us all safe.  We’re proud that this work is being done here in Wales.”  

SWA CEO, Chris Turner added “There has been a lot of conversation recently about the damage an impact to the head can cause, and we are unfortunately seeing more and more recently retired rugby players being diagnosed with early onset dementia. It is critical to long term health that we understand the effects of head impacts and the first step in this is quantifying impacts to allow experts to be able to act on this data and manage these loads. Moving technology initially designed for sport into a combat scenario makes sense and if it can help make soldiers that little bit safer in training drills and out in the field, that is something worth doing.”

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