Pittsburgh Steelers recruit robot player

The MVP robot allows footballers to train with less risk of injury(Credit: Pittsburgh Steelers)

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a new MVP ... and it's a robot. In this case, MVP stands for "Mobile Virtual Player" – a remote controlled robotic dummy designed to help players practice tackling and other plays with less risk of repetitive injuries.

Professional American football is a grueling game and in recent years the problems of concussion and other repetitive injuries have become a major concern. But what many people don't realize is that it isn't just under the massive Klieg lights of the games that the injuries are likely to occur, but in the intense training sessions that lead up to them. It small wonder, therefore, that finding new ways to train players while minimizing injuries has drawn a lot of attention.

"We were tasked with how can we practice tackling without utilizing another player," says Elliot Kastner, a former defensive tackle for Dartmouth and co-founder/director of research and development for Mobile Virtual Player. "What it comes down to is repetitive impact on players is what we are trying to eliminate. We realized the safest thing to do is pull one of those players out of the drill. It was introduced to reduce player on player contact."

According to the Steelers, the MVP is the world's first and only motorized, self-righting, mobile training dummy. Operated by remote control, it was created as a result of Dartmouth football coach Buddy Teevens banning tackling in practice in favor of drills in order to reduce injuries. As part of this, engineers at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering developed MVP as a mobile target that the players could chase and tackle safely.

In addition, the MPV could also execute passing drills and act as a running back as well as carrying out other practice plays. According to the spin-off company that now produces the MVP, the robot not only reduced injuries at Dartmouth, but also improved player performance.

The MPV is currently in the experimental stage with the Steelers, who are using it during their offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. The version being used can run at speeds comparable to a human player, as well as cut, weave, and stop and start. The Steelers say that if testing goes well, the robot will be available in 2017.

"It's an awesome piece of football technology," says Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin. "I am always interested in ways to utilize technology in terms of teaching football. We are excited to get a close look at it. The applications we are quickly finding are endless. It never gets tired. It runs at an appropriate football speed. All of the position groups are getting an opportunity to use it. It's funny, you just put it on the field and watch the guys and they show you the applications. It's been fun watching that."

The video below introduces the MVP.

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