The NFL has come under a barrage of criticism that the sport’s frequent collisions expose players to long term injuries, particularly brain trauma. To reduce this danger, the coach of Dartmouth College’s football team went so far as to ban live tackling from practice. But thanks to the school’s engineering department, the team never fell far behind. Soon, Dartmouth was practicing tackling against the Mobile Virtual Player (shortened to MVP, natch), a robotic dummy capable of running across the field like an actual player.
The MVP has proven so successful that it saw its big-league premiere this week against the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he thought the MVP was a remarkable addition to the practice squad, allowing the team to train at a higher intensity in the offseason without risking injury. Plus, it never gets tired.
“It’s an awesome piece of football technology,” Tomlin said.
“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,” Tomlin added.
A small motor inside the dummy powers the MVP, and it shows no trouble keeping up with some of the best athletes in the country.
“It looks like something out of I, Robot, but I definitely like it a lot in the sense of begin able to hit something in open field, something that’s moving without it being your teammates. And it doesn’t get tired, so it’s perfect,” Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats told the NFL.
The project came to Pittsburgh by way of staff member Dan Mooney, who had seen the MVP in action during his time playing at Dartmouth. The three former players who built the first prototype have since formed Mobile Tackling Target LLC to sell the dummies commercially, and the team is hoping that the first robots will hit the market as soon as 2017.
The greatest obstacles the dummies would have to overcome before reaching a wider football audience is probably the perception that they are simply not as good as live-tackling. While that may be true on some level, getting an endorsement from Steelers coach may help assuage worries. If the MVP can really offer tough practices while preserving the minds of the athletes, it may truly live up its name.