Why Is the NFL Using Robots?

September 8, 2016

 

Robots are slowly creeping their way into our day-to-day lives. It was one thing when they were used to further automate the automotive industry, but now they’re being used to automate genetic testing as well as...train football players.

 

Yes, you read that correctly. When I first saw these machines on an episode of Hard Knox, a football preseason documentary, produced by HBO, I was as shocked as you are. It was absurd watching these tackling dummy-like black blobs chase players and coaches across the field. At first I thought it was a joke, some gimmick to make the show more interesting.

 

But I kid you not. I did a little digging and believe me, these robots are real...but, before I continue, I think it needs to be mentioned that the robots we’re discussing here today are NOT capable of AI (artificial intelligence). We are still very far away from creating machines that are able to think independently. These aren’t Terminators, ok?

 

They are called Mobile Virtual Players (MVPs) and they were first discovered by Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin, while he was browsing YouTube.  There are currently three teams in the NFL using MVPs; the Pittsburgh Steelers, their bitter rival, the Baltimore Ravens, and the newly franchised Los Angeles Rams.

 

 

MVPs look like tackling dummies; they are made of rubber, sit on a base, and weigh between 160-180 pounds. The engine is tucked neatly away in the base, protected by a cushion. They are remote-controlled, run a five-second, 40-yard dash, and are quite agile, able to cut (change directions suddenly) and run into the open field.

 

But...they are so much more than robotic marvels. Their presence in training camp limits the amount of human-to-human contact, decreasing the risk of injury. So, it’s no surprise that MVPs are trending (the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Atlanta Falcons are reported to have looked into purchasing MVPs in the future). Sure, they’re $8,000 a pop, but if they keep players safe, they’re well worth the investment. Nothing makes a football owner cringe more than a first-round draft pick tearing his ACL during practice.

 

About a year ago, Mashable covered the MVP story when they were still only available at Dartmouth. They were developed by the Ivy League college’s engineering department after their head coach, Buddy Teevens, asked them to figure out a safer way to tackle. Football is a dangerous sport, and as our athletes gets bigger and stronger, every hit, every tackle, is riskier. Considering players spend more time practicing, the MVP offers a true solution to the issue.

 

This is especially true at the high school and pre-high school level, where 60-75% of head injuries happen during practice (for pros, it’s 3%). Teevens is also one of the visionaries behind Practice Like Pros, an organization whose sole purpose is to decrease practice-related football injuries. With the invention of the MVP, this is becoming more and more possible!

 

So, it looks like robotics really are here to stay...and why not? They’ve made vehicle production more efficient, genetic testing more secure, and now, they’re making football safer. It doesn’t get much more mainstream than the NFL...so if the National Football League is OK working with robots, it’s highly likely that we all will, at some point in the future, as well.

 

Sources: Wired, HBO, ESPN, MVP, Mashable





 

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writer | author | sci-fi storyteller

Lisa Caskey

writer | author | sci-fi storyteller
© 2016 by Lisa Caskey
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