The Pittsburgh Steelers are experimenting with robot tackling dummies that chase players across the training field, potentially ramming into them with columnar, padded bodies. The robot dummies are able to operate independently, featuring a base upon which they can roll and brake. In a demonstration video posted by the NFL, the dummies are able to zoom after someone, brake when they dodge, and reverse course quickly.
The tackling dummies, demonstrated in the video below, were developed by Dartmouth College, according to the NFL; they’re currently in testing, and they’re designed to run at an ‘appropriate football speed.’ By using these dummies, the NFL hopes to see a decrease in instances of player injuries while allowing them to develop and hone the same skills other training methods offered.
It isn’t clear whether the robots are able to operate autonomously, though one clip does show someone wth a remote control seemingly manually steering a tackling dummy. According to a piece by NPR in 2015, the dummies were made by Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering students, and they were first used by the college’s own football players.
In that case, the creators dubbed their robot dummies the “MVP,” or Mobile Virtual Player. Dartmouth’s training dummies measured in at 5’11”, 200 pounds, and could run a 40 yard dash in 4.8 seconds. The movements were described as being very realistic relative to human football players.