NotImpossibleNow's Elliot Kotek bumped into Blackbox Biometrics Chief Technology Officer and Founder Dave Borkholder at International CES in Las Vegas. In what was probably a case of organizer's humor - this tech company that keeps collisions from becoming concussions was placed just inside The Sands Expo hall's busiest doorways.
Hey Dave, can you tell us a little bit about how you got this started?
Dave: Blackbox Biometrics was founded in 2011 to provide a blast force sensor for the US military. So that's the "blast gauge," that's been very successful with both US military and international militaries and law enforcement. In 2012, we decided to take our expertise in measurement of potential concussive forces, and translate it from the battle field to the playing field. And that's what we're showing here today, the Linx IAS or "Impact Assessment System."
Why Linx IAS?
Dave: The Linx is a name that we thought was sporty, and captured the excitement of sports. IAS stands for Impact Assessment System.
Where are you based?
Dave: We're based in Rochester, New York.
Did the military come to you for the original Blast Gauge technology because of something else that you'd done, or did you pitch this technology to them?
Dave: The blast gauge technology actually was started as a DARPA-funded research program at a university, and we formed a company specifically to commercialize that.
Is this still being run by people who all have their bases at the university?
Dave: No. It's completely separate. I'm the Founder, so I did the original research that developed the blast gauge technology. I'm the only one that has an affiliation with the university... Rochester Institute of Technology.
What made you focus in on that blast gauge technology to begin with?
Dave: There was a real need to objectively measure the potential concussive forces that our soldiers were being exposed to. So, in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was this emergence of roadside bombs or IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), and a really huge number of traumatic brain injuries that were resulting from that. So we wanted to create a technology that could capture that exposure, give immediate information that could aid in triage, then give you all the detailed data that could help you understand how those exposures correlate to both acute and long-term injuries.
What was it like the first time you saw that technology being implemented, especially with the military, knowing that it was giving them another element of security?
Dave: Right, so we began development of the technology in the Spring of 2010, and it was fielded in Afghanistan in the Spring of 2011, and actually captured events in IED attacks with our soldiers. So it immediately provided really useful data to the treating physicians, and so that was the start of it, where we really saw the need, and the DOD [Department of Defense] saw the need as well, to put that on our soldiers.
How did you feel on a personal level when you started to see that feedback?
Dave: It's incredibly rewarding, our war fighters give so much to protect the freedoms that we have. They try to do that worldwide. It was nice to be able to give back just a little bit to those that give so much for us.
And now, implementing that technology, transferring it to sports? Are you looking to do deals with professional sports organizations, or is it more of a consumer-direct product?
Dave: It's actually available for both, so it's designed so that a parent can purchase it for their kids, or you can use it for an entire team. We just announced the product in early November of 2014, and it will be available for sale end of Q1 of this year.
How hard is it for a kid or a parent to implement this technology into their kid's safety?
Dave: It's incredibly easy, it's a small wearable device, it slips into a custom headband or skullcap, so you can use it across any sport that you'd like to, helmeted or not helmeted, and it comes with a companion application that runs on iOS or Android, so you can get real time alerts, status transmitted in real time to the sidelines, and it goes into our Cloud database. So you get alerts as the impacts occur, you know the severity of those impacts, and you can look at the cumulative impacts that are being experienced over time.
So there's an impact that might have a concussive ability, like a potentially traumatic injury and yet the person remains standing, maybe a little bit dazed, who gets notified? The people who have the app by the sideline? Can it also, once it goes beyond a certain level, trigger other emergency activations?
Dave: Yes, so anybody who has the correct code for that device can get the alerts on the sidelines, but when it goes up to the Cloud, you can have that go to anyone that you would like to, so we do have that ability to provide that objective measure of the impacts, which is really important because sometimes with concussions, there won't be any obvious signs, and sometimes symptoms are delayed.
Absolutely, and so where can people find out more about this at the moment?
If money was no object and resources were no object, talent-wise or otherwise, what's another problem that you'd tackle and try and solve?
Dave: Wow. I don't have an answer for that. World peace? Oh my gosh. I'm so immersed in making what we're doing successful, that I frankly haven't given much thought to what's on the radar to do next, what's the next big thing for us. This is a significant issue and we're optimistic that our technology is going to have a real positive impact.
Very cool, how's the reception been here?
Dave: I'd say, "Awesome." We won three innovation awards, for the same product.