Although intracranial hematoma detection only requires the continuous wave technique of near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), previous studies have shown that there are still some problems in obtaining very accurate, reliable hematoma detection. Several of the most important limitations of NIR technology for hematoma detection such as the dynamic range of detection, hair absorption, optical contact, layered structure of the head, and depth of detection are reported in this article. A pulsed light source of variable intensity was designed and studied in order to overcome hair absorption and to increase the dynamic range and depth of detection. An adaptive elastic optical probe was made to improve the optical contact and decrease contact noise. A new microcontroller operated portable hematoma detector was developed. Due to the layered structure of the human head, simulation on a layered medium was analyzed experimentally. Model inhomogeneity tests and animal hematoma tests showed the effectiveness of the improved hematoma detector for intracranial hematoma detection. © 2000 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.