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This Robot Wants to be the MVP on the Football Field

This Robot Wants to be the MVP on the Football Field

A small team of engineers has created a tackling dummy that goes out for a pass, sprints 100 yards in ten seconds flat, and quickly pops back up after being leveled by a 300-lb lineman.

Known as the Mobile Virtual Player, or MVP, the dummy was invented as a way to help football teams reduce the risk of head and neck injuries during contact drills. It’s fast and agile enough to simulate human players in a variety of activities ranging from running and passing to blocking and tackling.

”Our pop-up dummies can drive, corner fast, and get hit hard,” co-designer Elliot Kastner, a former student at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College and a partner in a startup called Mobile Tacking Target LLC , told Design News. “A player can take it to the ground and it just pops right back up.”

Kastner, who with his partners hopes to market the dummy to college, pro, and high school football teams, is reticent about providing design details. He will say only that multiple versions of the MVP exist, including one that uses conventional drive wheels and another that employs an omnidirectional spherical ball drive. Both are powered by electric motors and batteries. Current versions incorporate a microcontroller and a RF transceiver board, and are remotely controlled by coaches.

The fledgling company hopes to eventually make the mobile dummies programmable, however. “The resounding opinion from coaches is, ‘Remote control is great, but we’d love to be able to tell it to run a corner and have it come back home by itself,’” Kastner told us.

For the engineering students who designed the device for a senior capstone project, the big challenge was to combine speed, power, and agility with self-righting capabilities. Kastner said the MVP is capable of moving very fast, and accelerating without tipping backward. “It’s powerful enough to run a 10-second, 100-yard sprint,” he said.

The idea for the tackling target originated with Dartmouth’s head football coach, Buddy Teevens, more than two years ago. Teevens approached the Thayer School in hopes of finding a way to create a safer, more effective means for players to participate in contact drills. The idea was particularly timely, given that many college and high school programs are now limiting the amount of allowable practice contact for fear of head injuries. Teevens has joined with Thayer research engineer John Currier, student Quinn Connell, and Kastner to launch the company.

The founders plan to offer dummies of various capabilities and sizes from about 75 to 120 lb. They foresee them being used as blockers, receivers, and runners on artificial turf and grass fields. They even expect the MVP to see use outside of football, possibly in such sports as soccer and rugby.

A video of the MVP being used by rugby players recently went viral, reportedly garnering more than a million hits on the Internet. “We’ve had people from all over the world contacting us and asking, ‘When can we get one of those?’” Kastner told Design News. “And our answer is, ‘We’re working on it.’”

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Football Helmet Airbags Target Concussion Issues”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 31 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

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