How Technology Is Changing Football

Dartmouth College Engineering graduate Quinn Connell (upper left) controls the movement of the team's Mobile Virtual Player during college football practice Wednesday. Credit: Jim Cole/AP, via NPR.org.
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About This Episode

Are helmet sensors, virtual reality, big data and radio controlled tackling dummies the future of football? No – they’re already here. Find out how they’re “weaponizing” the game with Chuck, Gary and their guests, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, NY Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, and Jill Stelfox and Derek Belch from two technology firms leading the revolution. First up, you’ll hear how the sensors placed in players’ shoulder pads, as well as on the refs, the sticks, and even on the ball for last season’s Thursday Night Football games, are giving coaches – and fantasy football fans – nearly realtime data on player speeds, closing distances and more. But that’s just game data. Jill explains how Zebra Technologies has partnered with teams to collect biodata during practices, including heart rate and hydration levels via Bluetooth enabled sensors beamed right onto coaches’ tablets, to optimize performance and monitor player effort. Next, former place kicker and coach Derek Belch talks about how his company, StriVR, has developed virtual reality technology that is allowing NFL and college football teams to increase training reps without increased chance of injury. Does it work? You’ll hear about Clemson State, who started using it and went to back-to-back national championships, and the Stanford place kicker who used it and went from 3/6 attempts to 18/20 the next year, and 22/27 the year after that, setting a Stanford record. Chuck and Gary bring it all together with Buddy Teevens, Head Football Coach at Dartmouth College, who explains how he’s using big data and virtual reality training in his program. Buddy also talks about Dartmouth’s own invention, the MVP, a radio controlled Mobile Virtual Player, which is currently being used by teams from the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons to Notre Dame, eliminating the need to tackle in practice and reducing concussive head injuries by 80% while reducing missed tackles in games by 50%! This episode is also loaded with segments from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s interview with NY Jets Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, including Ryan’s take on the impact of big data and statistics on coaching decisions, as well as the importance of momentum and the human element in the face of this technological onslaught.

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