Shock detector on a package
Shock detectors can be mounted in sports helmets to help monitor impacts.

A shock detector, shock indicator, or impact monitor is a device which indicates whether a physical shock or impact has occurred. These usually have a binary output (go/no-go) and are sometimes called shock overload devices. Shock detectors can be used on shipments of fragile valuable items to indicate whether a potentially damaging drop or impact may have occurred. They are also used in sports helmets to help estimate if a dangerous impact may have occurred.[1]

By contrast, a shock data logger is a data acquisition system for analysis and recording of shock pulses.


Shocks and impacts are often specified by the peak acceleration expressed in g-s (sometimes called g-forces). The form of the shock pulse and particularly the duration are equally important.[1] For example, a short 1 ms 300 g shock has little damage potential and is not usually of interest but a 20 ms 300 g shock might be critical. Depending on the use, the response to this time sensitivity of a shock detector needs to be matched to the sensitivity of the item it is intended to monitor.

The mounting location also affects the response of most shock detectors. A shock on a rigid item such as a sports helmet or a rigid package might respond to a field shock with a jagged shock pulse which, without proper filtering is difficult to characterize. A shock on a cushioned item usually has a smoother shock pulse., and thus more consistent responses from shock detector.

Shocks are vector quantities with the direction of the shock being important to the item of interest, Shock detectors also can be highly sensitive to the direction of the input shock.[1]

A shock detector can be evaluated:

Use of proper test methods and Verification and validation protocols are important for all phases of evaluation.


A wide variety of technologies are available ranging from simple analog indicators to more sophisticated electronics. Usually a device provides an optical indication of a triggered event but sometimes electrical or RFID signals can be provided. Hundreds of shock detectors are described in patents listed in Patent classification 01P15/00: "Measuring acceleration; Measuring deceleration; Measuring shock, i.e. sudden change of acceleration"[3]

Analogue constructions include:

More sophisticated electronic systems use accelerometers and associated microelectromechanical systems.[1]

Monitor shipments

A shock detector can detect impact or shock forces during transit or in storage. The shock detector can mechanically turn red as the force exceeds acceleration. The reaction is irreversible.
Shock detector activation after excessive handling

A shock detector can be mounted on a package (inside or outside) or directly on the product being shipped. Mounting on the package is usually done to detect excessive handling such as high drop heights while mounting on the product is done to more closely indicate product damage.[4]

Some shipments need more than one shock detector to better monitor all directions of impacts.[4] Large or long items sometimes have shock detectors at both ends of the shipping container.

The shock detector indicates whether the goods in transit were likely to have been subjected to potentially damaging conditions. Based on this data, the options may be:[4]

Shock and impact are not the only hazards that can cause damage; vibration, puncture, and compression can also cause damage yet would not trigger a shock detector.

Impacts to people

Shock detector in bicycle helmet signals when a crash has occurred

Personal protective equipment such as helmets are sometimes equipped with impact monitors.[5][6] These are intended to help managers know if an excessive impact has occurred and help direct needed rest or medical attention. Research is continuing, including specialized mouthguards to help classify head impacts.[7]

Crash sensors on bicycle helmets can detect a crash and call for assistance. Fall sensors are available to senior citizens to call for help when a fall is detected.[8]

Other uses

A related use of an impact detector is as automobile air bag sensor. These sophisticated sensors are used to trigger the protective air bag system used on current vehicles.[9]

Active hard-drive protection systems sense impacts to laptop computers to help minimize damage from drops.

Some emergency locator beacons, such as Emergency Locator Transmitters, are activated by a specified shock or impact.


Shock detectors are used to indicate if a significant impact has occurred: This helps determine the need for follow-up actions. Variability is always present and must be accounted for in the analysis:

  • Shock detectors have some variation of response to shocks under controlled laboratory conditions.[10][11]
  • People respond as individuals to impacts. What might cause injury to one person might not be as severe to another.
  • Fragile items and packaged goods respond with variation to uniform laboratory shocks,[12]
  • Field shocks are highly variable

Of course, it is best when the shock detector properly signals when damage or injury is likely and when it is not. It is very possible to have false positive signals where a shock detector is triggered but there is no damage to a product or no injury to a person. Likewise false negatives are also possible.[13]

Damage or Injury

No Damage or Injury

Shock Detector Activated Correct Signal False Positive
Shock Detector Not Activated False Negative Correct Signal

Shock detectors are intended to indicate a single severe shock or impact. In some instances a series of lesser shocks might cause damage or injury[14] but would not trigger a shock detector.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Harris, C. M., and Peirsol, A. G. "Shock and Vibration Handbook", 2001, McGraw Hill, ISBN 0-07-137081-1
  2. ^ Vincent, R (2017). "On The Performance of Mechanical Shock Indicators" (PDF). Packaging Technology and Science. 30. Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  3. ^ G01P15/00 Measuring acceleration; Measuring deceleration; Measuring shock, i.e. sudden change of acceleration
  4. ^ a b c Yam, K.L., "Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology", John Wiley & Sons, 2009, ISBN 978-0-470-08704-6
  5. ^ S, Foreman (13 November 2013). "A Comparative Analysis for the Measurement of Head Accelerations in Ice Hockey Helmets using Non-Accelerometer Based Systems" (PDF). ASTM Concussion Mechanisms Symposium (Nov 13, 2013). ASTM international.
  6. ^ Moore, N C (29 January 2014). "Understanding concussions: Testing head-impact sensors". Michigan News: 10–12. Retrieved 3 Nov 2014.
  7. ^ Wu LC; Zarnescu L; Nangia V; Cam B; Camarillo DB. (November 2014). "A Head Impact Detection System Using SVM Classification and Proximity Sensing in an Instrumented Mouthguard". IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 61 (11): 2659–68. doi:10.1109/tbme.2014.2320153. PMID 24800918. S2CID 22619767.
  8. ^ Noury, N.; Herve, T.; Rialle, V.; Virone, G.; Mercier, E.; Morey, G.; Moro, A.; Porcheron, T. (2000). 1st Annual International IEEE-EMBS Special Topic Conference on Microtechnologies in Medicine and Biology. Proceedings (Cat. No.00EX451). pp. 607–610. doi:10.1109/MMB.2000.893857. ISBN 978-0-7803-6603-9. S2CID 60860923.
  9. ^ "What You Need to Know About Air Bags, DOT HS 809 575". Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
  10. ^ Singh, S P; Burgess, Stapleton (1994). "Reliability and Error Estimations of Mechanical Shock Recorders and Impact Indicators". Packaging Technology and Science. 7 (4): 187–194. doi:10.1002/pts.2770070405.
  11. ^ Graesser, L; Singh, Burgess (1992). "A Performance Study for Two Portable Data Recorders Used to Measure Package Drop Heights". Packaging Technology and Science. 5 (1): 57–61. doi:10.1002/pts.2770050111.
  12. ^ ASTM Research Report D10-1004, ASTM International
  13. ^ Sheehan, R (January 1983). "Characterizing Shock Detector Performance". Packaging Technology. 12 (6): 26–30.
  14. ^ Rivara, G R (2014). Sports-Related Concussions in Youth: Improving the Science, Changing the Culture. Institute of Medicine; National Research Council. Retrieved 12 November 2014.