How Tech Innovation is Redefining the NFL in 2022
Real-time Insights: The Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Chips
Behind the National Football League’s next-gen player statistics are a collection of small Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips—which, while not much larger than an average AirTag, play a vital role in deriving invaluable insights from the game.
The nickel-sized chips fit into the player’s shoulder pads and form an ecosystem that enables advanced player tracking when coupled with an estimated 30 ultra-wideband receivers that span the length of the football field—allowing the league to capture every inch of movement—right from the quarterback to the tailback.
The RFID-equipped footballs take the data collection even further. Installed strategically across the 1.32-acre field, the RFID receivers collect and provide information about the location, position, velocity and rotation of the football associated with each pass and kick amid the action, providing riveting insights to the broadcasters, coaching staff, players, and of course—the fans.
Zebra Technologies, NFL’s official “On-Field Player-Tracking Provider” stated that by leveraging the RFID technology, they are able to collect and deliver advanced performance metrics that not only impart excitement into the fan experience through graphical broadcast presentations but also empower the coaching staff through advanced motion data to formulate winning strategies in the thick of the action.
Safeguarding Players on the Field: The Evolving NFL Helmet Technologies
The NFL has been ardently investing in cutting-edge helmet innovations to safeguard players on-field—and indeed, the recent advancements in the technology have helped the league dramatically reduce concussion-based injuries over the years.
As a part of their 2018 Injury Reduction Plan, the NFL launched the ‘Helmet Challenge’ wherein the league would award grants to innovators developing helmet prototypes that could outperform the current designs in safeguarding players from sustaining serious head injuries on the field. Since 2021, the league have awarded $1.55 million in grant funding to start-ups and university spin-off firms to advance their helmet prototypes.
Design prototypes proposed by the awardees of the grant harness deformable shells, liquid-crystal elastomers and lattice carriers that embed energy-dampening materials to safeguard players from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated head trauma—a condition that frequently affects football players.
The RFID helmets will be better equipped to protect players and collect information via sensors—such as head kinematic data, field surface information and other variables to review concussion-causing impacts. This will help NFL engineers make further design improvements through data-driven insights.
“The data is so precise that the NFL’s engineers can analyze it position-by-position to develop insights into exactly what types of impacts players are most likely to experience and then work directly with helmet manufacturers to share these learnings so that they can design position-specific equipment to better protect against those impacts,” states the NFL.
Virtually Real: VR Enters the Football Field
The rise of virtual reality (VR) has revolutionized several aspects of American Football—both on and off-field.
The detail-rich recreations of the field in the virtual 3D space have helped referees and officials analyze the game environment from multiple perspectives during and after the play, enabling them to consistently and precisely call the games while the action unfolds.
Although still in its infancy, VR-based training environments are steadily on the rise in the NFL arena. The league has been using STRIVER’s immersive VR since 2017 for training players in a virtual environment to enhance their strategic decision-making prowess before they venture into the field.
STRIVER presents a plethora of fascinating training and development opportunities for players and officials. The headsets are able to recreate a 360-degree virtual environment providing a compelling and immersive experience of the game scenario—wherein individuals can train optimally, efficiently and cost-effectively.
Investment in technological innovations, is beyond doubt, returning dividends in the NFL arena by making the sport safer and more enjoyable for players and fans alike.
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