As football teams continue to look for ways to make practice safer and reduce helmet-to-helmet contact, new technology is taking the place of old-school tackling drills.
This off-season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have integrated the use of the “Mobile Virtual Player” (or MVP) into their practices. Designed by engineers at Dartmouth’s Thayer School, the MVP is “the world’s first and only motorized, self-righting, mobile training dummy.” The concept is simple. Up top, the MVP looks like a traditional tackling dummy, but robotics on the underside allow for dynamic remote control. Coaches can move the MVP around at a variety of speeds, angles and distances, allowing for a huge number of different drills.
Here’s a video from Dartmouth’s spring ball practice highlighting their use of the MVP:
Other colleges such as Harvard and Michigan State have used the MVP in their training, but the Steelers seem to be the first NFL team to do so.
“It’s an awesome piece of football technology,” head coach Mike Tomlin told Steelers.com. “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.”
Steelers players have also expressed appreciation for the MVP, noting that it does a great job of mimicking the movements of a football player. “It’s faster than we think, faster than it looks. You realize it’s fast when you have to catch up to it,” Defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “It’s a good visual effect of how a running back or receiver catches the ball on the sidelines to give us a pursuit and open us up and give us an angle to the ball.” According to NPR, certain iterations of the dummy can run the equivalent of a 4.8 40-Yard Dash.
The MVP is not only a safer alternative to player-on-player tackling, it takes us one step closer to having an entire robot football league where every player looks like Cleatus.
Check out a video of the Steelers using the MVP at the team’s official website.
RELATED: Study Reveals Football Practice Without Helmets Can Reduce Concussion Risk, Improve Tackling Ability