A sturdy helmet does a great job of protecting your head whether you're clearing aliens from an off-world mining colony or clearing the puck away from a 6'4" power forward on a hockey rink. They don't do much for your neck, though, which is why certain head-on impacts can lead to devastating spinal injuries. A new kind of helmet, the Pro-Neck-Tor, uses surprisingly simple technology that could save athletes (not to mention space marines) from life in a wheelchair.
Last year, I watched in horror as Buffalo Bills player Kevin Everett suffered a severe spinal injury in the first game of the NFL season. After nearly dying on the field, then receiving a series of grim prognoses, Everett eventually regained the ability to walk on his own. Despite the positive outcome for Everett, it still ended his career. What he suffered was exactly the type of injury the Pro-Neck-Tor could prevent.
When you strike something head-on, like a football player or the end boards of a hockey rink, the stresses placed on your neck can approximate those in a car crash. If you're wearing a helmet, it prevents the force from affecting your skull, but it stops your head's movement suddenly. The force is transferred to the neck and spine. This leads to burst fractures and severe dislocation of the cervical spine. Damage to the spinal cord leads to paralysis. The Pro-Neck-Tor (let's get it out of the way and just acknowledge how horrible the name is) solves this problem by incorporating an inner and outer helmet shell and a pivot point.
As your head impacts something at a head-on angle with enough force, the pivot swings the inner shell forward. The outer shell hits the object while your head stays with the inner shell. The pivoting motion swings your head down and diffuses the force. Testing shows a reduction in forces acting on the neck by up to 72 percent. You can watch a pretty cool video that shows how it works at the Pro-Neck-Tor website. Image by: University of British Columbia.