Could this slimy, brightly colored orange goo be a real-life version of the “Flubber” from the 1997 film starring Robin Williams?
Not quite… But while it may look like it’s made for children, in reality it is revolutionizing the way soldiers are protected, and could radically reduce the number of head trauma injuries in football.
It’s a gel developed by UK-company D3O that acts as both a liquid and a solid. When handled slowly the goo is soft and flexible but the moment it receives an impact, it hardens. It’s all thanks to the gel’s shock-absorbing properties.
“If I wrap it around my fingers, it’s very soft,” Felicity Boyce, a material developer at D3O, told CNN, “but if you hit it with great force, it behaves more like a solid that’s absorbing the shock and none of that impact goes through my hand.”
With careful blending, the team has been able to use the patented gel in helmets, mobile phone cases, gloves and most notably, armor for football players and those in the military.
“Obviously you couldn’t just use this (gel) inside a protection item – because it’s messy, it’s sticky, and it’s gooey,” Boyce said. “So that’s the clever part – incorporating this into something that can be used as an end product and still maintaining those properties of being soft and flexible.”
Developed in 1999, the material rose to prominence during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, when apparel company Spyder used D3O’s protective gel for the US and Canadian ski teams’ race suits.
Since then, it’s been used by Usain Bolt in the soles of his shoes at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the company has teamed up with many global brands in sport, electronics, defense and industrial apparel.
Floria Antolini, the chief knowledge officer at D3O, said there were endless opportunities for the orange goo.
“When you create something so different than anything on the market, there’s a lot of experimentation (that can be done),” she said.
American football has become a huge market for the British company, where the gel is incorporated in padding and helmets to absorb the impact of any hits a player receives.
In 2015 alone, there were 271 reported concussions in the NFL, but by using this technology, D3O hopes to dramatically decrease the number of head trauma injuries.
“We’re part of the solution and we can definitely contribute to protecting people so that they experience fewer injuries,” Antolini said.
To ascertain how much impact can be absorbed by D3O helmets, the company conducts tests on mannequin heads.
“The main testing we’re interested in is the impact performance by, dropping different weights on materials, and to measure the force that is transmitted to the material,” Boyce said.
“That tells us how well that would protect your body from a particular impact.”
D3O claims it can reduce blunt impact by 53 per cent compared to materials like foam.
Protection and comfort
The D3O team has also worked extensively with the US and UK defense forces, police and emergency services to provide protective and comfortable clothes.
Antolini said the company first started looking at how to protect soldiers from impacts and improve everything from their shoes to the padding on their knees, elbows and shoulders – so that those in combat could hold their positions without becoming uncomfortable.
She added: “While we don’t have a material that can stop a bullet, we do have a material that can reduce the amount of trauma that your body would experience if you got shot.”
Video produced by Temujin Doran, graphic by Craig Maxwell