Every year in America, an estimated 21,000 kids 14 and younger go to the emergency rooms after suffering traumatic brain injuries on the playground.
Chris Hanson, working as a salesman in the playground industry, wanted to do something to lower those numbers.
The Munster man saw that all the equipment to test playground safety was too expensive or required multiple people to operate. Thus, not much testing was being done.
So he teamed up with his brother, a mechanical engineer, to develop a lower-cost, less cumbersome testing device.
The result is the ST Impact Analyzer CH, a handheld electronic tester that measures the impact of falls on playground surfaces. The device recently received a design patent and is on the market now.
"In the past, a parks and recreation guy or a school maintenance guy would go out and give it the eyeball test," Hanson said. "With the growing awareness of the long-term repercussions of brain injuries, especially in children, what was out there was not good enough. The technology hadn't progressed past where it was 20 years ago."
Hanson's company, Sonam Technologies, is located at the Purdue Research Park in Crown Point.
Sonam Technologies sells the equipment to professional safety auditors, schools and municipal parks and recreation departments across the U.S., Canada and Southeast Asia. The device, which is the size and weight of a 6-year-old's head, is dropped onto the playground surface, measuring the impact of a fall.
Hanson said park inspectors traditionally had checked for things like loose bolts and choking points. His device, fitting into a case that's about 1 cubic foot, will allow them to easily test the safety of the playground surface, which can change over time due to use and climate.
"That ability to take it from site to site to site in quick succession means the testing is going to be done," he said. "If the technology is too difficult to use, people aren't going to take advantage of it."
He noted that park and school districts can be sued if a child injures his or her brain on the playground. He said his device is a way for them to reduce their legal liability while improving the health and safety of children, who inevitably fall while they're playing.
"You can't make a safe playground," he said. "You can only make a safer playground."