Tool of hard knocks: Sophisticated Kiwi tech to be rolled out by World Rugby

A Kiwi company has scored big as World Rugby prepares to adopt its head injury management solution, following a successful trial at the Rugby World Cup 2015.

The technology, dubbed CSx HeadGuard, provides players, coaches and medics with real-time data about the effects players experience following impacts to the head.

The software uses World Rugby’s standardised head injury diagnostic process to measure changes to cognitive function immediately following an impact, post-game and 36-48 hours after the incident.   

With the signing of the deal, Idealog sat down with CSx CEO, Ed Lodge, to discuss how the technology works, how a deal was struck, and the state of player welfare in the game.

Idealog: So how about we start with a description of the tech here? Give me the Reader’s Digest version of the solution you’ve got on your hands.

Lodge: What we’ve got is an app where we can manage the ‘concussion process’ in sport. What we allow you to do is compare pitch-side assessments against the person’s ‘norm’.

Essentially, it’s a cognitive test involving balance, coordination, concentration and immediate memory. So the way it works is, once a year, we take a baseline measurement. If someone comes off the field with a suspected concussion, we perform a cognitive test, then we do it after the game, then another 36 hours later. We know what a person’s ‘normal’ is, so we’ve got that data to compare any changes against. It’s a tool for making an informed, clinical decision, in real time.

Before this deal, you had a high-profile trial at the Rugby World Cup 2015. How long had you actually been in talks with World Rugby?

Probably 6 to 9 months leading up to working with the chief medical officer at the event.

So how difficult was it getting your foot in the door and meetings happening with an institution as big as World Rugby?

It wasn’t easy at all, but I do have a background in rugby, so I was able to figure out who to make that original call to.

So what’s the deal you’ve signed?

The deal is this: All competitors that are signed up with the World Rugby Head Injury Assessment Protocol now have access to our concussion software.

And now you’re going to tell me how much the deal is worth, right?

No, but I will say that it’s a substantial deal for us, simply because it’s giving us the ability to work with World Rugby. It’s enabling us to get it out there, and since we signed this deal, we’ve started talking to others.

Now that this technology has been adopted, do you think player welfare standards are adequate? There’s been a bit of controversy after all, with World Rugby's chief medical officer suggesting the rules of the game may have to change to reduce concussions. What’s your position?

I think rugby does a really good job. We want people playing sport, as long as it’s managed properly. Of course we don’t want players with concussions going back on the field and that’s not an easy thing to manage, but they manage it well.

For us, we think it’s great at the professional level, but we want to bring that [sophistication] to the amateur level. We want to add a little bit more data around how the process happens at that level. I think there is a real place for CSx there, even if it’s only in creating a baseline for the doctor to compare against.

And it’s not just about rugby. Soccer players get a lot of concussion injuries too. They kick each other in the head, run into the goal posts and hit the ball with their heads. And only seven million people play rugby. 265 million play soccer.

You’ve got Murry Bolton [private equity owner of the Auckland Blues] as an investor. What has the funding process of CSx been like in general?

It’s been…good. We do want to do another round though, and it will probably be offshore. We’ve been talking to some people in the northern hemisphere.

You’re a self-described serial entrepreneur. What’s been your thinking behind CSx?

Well my interest is in wearable tech things and I used to be in sports. Basically, I like rugby, and because of my physio background, we’ve developed the product as if I’m still standing on the side-lines, rather than as if I’m a tech guy going ‘you should use this’.

It all started out being about the sensor, but that’s going to be a much longer road for us. It’s the software that has taken on a life of its own. 

Image: Jessie Marsh