Accumulation of head impacts may contribute to acute and long-term brain trauma. Wearable sensors can measure impact exposure, yet current sensors do not have validated impact detection methods for accurate exposure monitoring. Here we demonstrate a head impact detection method that can be implemented on a wearable sensor for detecting field football head impacts. Our method incorporates a support vector machine classifier that uses biomechanical features from the time domain and frequency domain, as well as model predictions of head-neck motions. The classifier was trained and validated using instrumented mouthguard data from collegiate football games and practices, with ground truth data labels established from video review. We found that low frequency power spectral density and wavelet transform features (10∼30 Hz) were the best performing features. From forward feature selection, fewer than ten features optimized classifier performance, achieving 87.2% sensitivity and 93.2% precision in cross-validation on the collegiate dataset (n = 387), and over 90% sensitivity and precision on an independent youth dataset (n = 32). Accurate head impact detection is essential for studying and monitoring head impact exposure on the field, and the approach in the current paper may help to improve impact detection performance on wearable sensors.
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