Michael Robinson had just finished football practice when he saw his teammate Craig Lobrano collapse on the field in the summer of 2000.
Robinson, then a budding high school football star, immediately knew something was wrong.
“He wasn’t really coherent. We just knew something was different,” Robinson recalls.
Lobrano was taken to the hospital, but was soon pronounced dead the next morning. The cause of death: heat stroke.
“As a football player, you don’t tell people when you think you’re tired or dehydrated. You just keep fighting,” Robinson said. “To have something like that happen as a kid in high school, I was scared to go back out on the field. I never went thirsty again.”
For the next 14 years, Robinson went on to have a successful college and pro football career, including a Superbowl run with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. But all along, Robinson knew his career would be incomplete without doing something to prevent the next Lobrano, a teammate he considered one of his closest friends in high school.
So when he saw the chance to launch a startup called SMRT Mouth, a “smart” mouthpiece maker, with cofounder Dana Hawes, Robinson didn’t hesitate to jump on board.
“I jumped all over it when Dana called. It was very intriguing to me that we could prevent these deaths,” Robinson said.
Fitbit for the mouth
SMRT Mouth makes a digital mouthpiece with sensors that can track an athlete’s biometric data, including the level of hydration, respiration, and circulation. The device can send the data to a smartphone or tablet app, allowing coaches to monitor the athlete’s hydration level in real-time.
“SMRT is very different from regular mouthguards, which are formed to protect teeth. SMRT Mouth is developed with the goal of helping prevent fatalities in human life,” Hawes, the cofounder of the company, said. “Just like Fitbit comes with a software that connects to your iOS or Android, SMRT Mouth comes with the same ease of use.”
Robinson says the mouthpiece is currently in development and will make its official debut at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show. He plans to sell it for $US159 when it launches.
To raise money, SMRT Mouth is currently running an Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign, which generated a little over $US10,000 in the past 3 weeks.
But why a mouthguard, when they could have made a wristband or headband? Hawes says athletes just don’t want any more add-ons to their already complicated set of gear.
“Athletes don’t want something more to add to their arsenal,” Hawes explained. “If you got a wristband on, and somebody like Michael Robinson hunts you down in the backfield, how long do you think that wrist band is going to stay on you?”
While Robinson hopes to have pro athletes use his product eventually, he believes starting from the bigger student athletics market is where the real opportunity is. He says 54 high school football players died from heat stroke in the past 10 years, and more than 9,000 high school athletes deal with heat illness every year.
“Youth football players don’t have the level of care pro athletes have available to them,” he said. “This is something that could change the way sports is played.”