AI News, How a Robot Football Player Will Prevent Concussions

How a Robot Football Player Will Prevent Concussions

During practices, American football coaches typically stay on the sidelines, grim-faced, as they order their players through drills.

The MVP, or Mobile Virtual Player, was designed to take precisely this kind of hit—the sort of jarring blow that, inflicted repeatedly, can injure the brains of human players.

American football has been rocked by controversy over the last decade, as it has become clear that the repeated collisions inherent to the sport are giving players concussions and sometimes causing debilitating and permanent brain trauma.

Doctors, politicians, and parents are asking an urgent question: If these smashing impacts begin when players are young, what will be the cumulative effect after many years?

By serving as a realistic stand-in, we figured, a robot would reduce player-on-player impacts during tackling drills, when many head injuries occur.

We aimed to build a zippy padded robot that could be knocked down by a powerful linebacker and immediately pop back up, ready for the next player’s charge.

Over the past few months we distributed those robots to customers on our waiting list, which included NFL teams and some of the top college football teams in the country.

We can even imagine a futuristic football practice in which players jog onto the field and find an entire robotic team waiting for them on the line of scrimmage.

“I love the game of football, but I love my players more,” said Eugene “Buddy” Teevens, coach of the Dartmouth football team, while testifying this past May at a U.S. congressional hearing on concussions in youth athletics.

But the coach kept wishing that he could safely approximate game conditions in practice sessions, allowing his defensive players to chase and tackle elusive runners.

We aimed to build a fast-moving robot that could realistically simulate a football player and withstand repeated tackles, and we promised to deliver it to the coach in six months.

Our original idea was to build a robot that would roll on a central ball so it could move quickly in any direction, mimicking a human player’s unpredictable runs.

We had trouble generating the right amount of traction in two places: between the ball and the small internal drivetrain wheels that controlled its spin, and also between the ball and the ground.

We poured green foam into a mold to get the form we wanted—a human-height cone with a rounded base—and added big chunks of steel as ballast.

We added an off-the-shelf radio communications system to steer the bot via remote control, and we hooked in jumper cables to power the robot with the car battery taken from Connell’s Subaru.

I stashed the prototype in various lab spaces in the engineering building before finally moving it to my former fraternity house, where I parked it in a closet next to a stack of empty beer kegs.

We tried many different batteries and setups, with plenty of failures: More than once we left the football field with smoking wreckage when a drive system burned through wires or damaged the batteries.

We tried many different air-filled balls, and we turned out dozens of intricate components on the engineering school’s 3D printer as we tried to get better traction between the drivetrain wheels and the ball.

We eventually developed a housing mechanism where the ball was held in place with sprung casters, which kept it tensioned against the drive wheels.

We loaded the dummy into the back of a truck, and during our drive to the football field we crossed paths with a Dartmouth rugby player who volunteered to help out with the first test.

While Connell remotely steered the speedy robot in loops and zigzags around the field, our expert tackler repeatedly ran after the bot and took it down.

We had cause for concern: About 3 minutes into the drill, an MVP popped up from a hit with one wheel running continuously at full speed, making the robot spin around in tight circles.

I hustled it off the field, and when we pulled it apart we discovered that a battery lead had been jarred loose and, astoundingly, connected itself directly to a motor lead, entirely bypassing the electronics platform controlling the voltage.

Our final prototype weighed about 70 kilograms (150pounds) and had a top speed of 32 kilometers per hour (20 miles per hour), which is fast enough to mimic a human player.

So we established a partnership with Rogers Athletic Co., a leading manufacturer of football equipment based in Clare, Mich., and the company built six beta units that we brought to spring training camps in 2016.

At multipurpose high school fields, our MVP had trouble moving smoothly over the dirt in the baseball diamond’s running paths, particularly when the ground was muddy.

American football is a tough sport, and its robotic players must be tough, too—the MVP should work through snow, ice, mud, rain, or scorching heat.

We settled finally on a better two-part control system: a trigger that the user pulls to power the bot forward and a steering wheel to control its direction.

The OS could also support a local-area network that lets MVPs communicate with each other—potentially enabling us to field an entire robotic team, with MVPs working in concert to execute plays.

How a Robot Football Player Will Prevent Concussions

During practices, American football coaches typically stay on the sidelines, grim-faced, as they order their players through drills.

The MVP, or Mobile Virtual Player, was designed to take precisely this kind of hit—the sort of jarring blow that, inflicted repeatedly, can injure the brains of human players.

American football has been rocked by controversy over the last decade, as it has become clear that the repeated collisions inherent to the sport are giving players concussions and sometimes causing debilitating and permanent brain trauma.

Doctors, politicians, and parents are asking an urgent question: If these smashing impacts begin when players are young, what will be the cumulative effect after many years?

By serving as a realistic stand-in, we figured, a robot would reduce player-on-player impacts during tackling drills, when many head injuries occur.

We aimed to build a zippy padded robot that could be knocked down by a powerful linebacker and immediately pop back up, ready for the next player’s charge.

Over the past few months we distributed those robots to customers on our waiting list, which included NFL teams and some of the top college football teams in the country.

We can even imagine a futuristic football practice in which players jog onto the field and find an entire robotic team waiting for them on the line of scrimmage.

But the coach kept wishing that he could safely approximate game conditions in practice sessions, allowing his defensive players to chase and tackle elusive runners.

We aimed to build a fast-moving robot that could realistically simulate a football player and withstand repeated tackles, and we promised to deliver it to the coach in six months.

Our original idea was to build a robot that would roll on a central ball so it could move quickly in any direction, mimicking a human player’s unpredictable runs.

So we simply added passive stabilizers, ringing the base with steel tubing that lightly skimmed over the ground while the robot rolled along.

We had trouble generating the right amount of traction in two places: between the ball and the small internal drivetrain wheels that controlled its spin, and also between the ball and the ground.

We used computer models to find a shape with the right center of gravity, ending up with something resembling a Weeble, the roly-poly children’s toy.

We poured green foam into a mold to get the form we wanted—a human-height cone with a rounded base—and added big chunks of steel as ballast.

We added an off-the-shelf radio communications system to steer the bot via remote control, and we hooked in jumper cables to power the robot with the car battery taken from Connell’s Subaru.

I stashed the prototype in various lab spaces in the engineering building before finally moving it to my former fraternity house, where I parked it in a closet next to a stack of empty beer kegs.

We tried many different batteries and setups, with plenty of failures: More than once we left the football field with smoking wreckage when a drive system burned through wires or damaged the batteries.

We tried many different air-filled balls, and we turned out dozens of intricate components on the engineering school’s 3D printer as we tried to get better traction between the drivetrain wheels and the ball.

We eventually developed a housing mechanism where the ball was held in place with sprung casters, which kept it tensioned against the drive wheels.

We loaded the dummy into the back of a truck, and during our drive to the football field we crossed paths with a Dartmouth rugby player who volunteered to help out with the first test.

While Connell remotely steered the speedy robot in loops and zigzags around the field, our expert tackler repeatedly ran after the bot and took it down.

We had cause for concern: About 3 minutes into the drill, an MVP popped up from a hit with one wheel running continuously at full speed, making the robot spin around in tight circles.

I hustled it off the field, and when we pulled it apart we discovered that a battery lead had been jarred loose and, astoundingly, connected itself directly to a motor lead, entirely bypassing the electronics platform controlling the voltage.

Our final prototype weighed about 70 kilograms (150pounds) and had a top speed of 32 kilometers per hour (20 miles per hour), which is fast enough to mimic a human player.

So we established a partnership with Rogers Athletic Co., a leading manufacturer of football equipment based in Clare, Mich., and the company built six beta units that we brought to spring training camps in 2016.

At multipurpose high school fields, our MVP had trouble moving smoothly over the dirt in the baseball diamond’s running paths, particularly when the ground was muddy.

American football is a tough sport, and its robotic players must be tough, too—the MVP should work through snow, ice, mud, rain, or scorching heat.

We settled finally on a better two-part control system: a trigger that the user pulls to power the bot forward and a steering wheel to control its direction.

The OS could also support a local-area network that lets MVPs communicate with each other—potentially enabling us to field an entire robotic team, with MVPs working in concert to execute plays.

Dartmouth Football's Brilliant Dummies

Wearing a green Dartmouth College jersey, the newest player on the school's football team readies for action during a preseason practice.

Developed by students at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering, the new robotic dummies were designed to allow players to practice tackling without injuring one another in the process.

He said the 5-foot-11-inch, 200-plus-pound MVP can weave, cut, stop and start — even 'run' a respectable 4.8-second 40-yard-dash.

Starting five years ago, Teevens decided to completely do away with tackles in practice, citing athlete-on-athlete collisions as a main cause of concussive injuries.

The first full season after implementing the new method, the team's number of missed tackles dropped by half, Teevens said.

Kastner, a former Dartmouth football player, and Connell, who played rugby there, are the primary developers of the MVP, which started as their senior capstone project in 2013.

'I was fortunate enough to never have a concussion, but players on my team missed weeks after sustaining a blow to the head.

The U.S. National Rugby Team shared a video of the robot in action that quickly racked up more than a million views, and Teevens said three NFL teams have called to inquire about it, though he declined to say which ones.

Baylor’s robotic tackling dummy lost a race and then obliterated a coach

These intelligent lifeforms, which are definitely not going to one day band together and take over the planet we’re all living on, are great for certain football drills.

A still from just before the pivotal moment of impact: And then this: The end zone angle is even more haunting: Padden was a good soldier.

And if anybody — that’s a warning out there, because the machines aren’t gonna fight fair, and we better be ready.”

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