By Bill McCabe

IoT in the NFL: The Next Wave of Data

The NFL is embracing the Internet of Things technology from wearables to robotics, 5G to intelligent sensors.

Technological advancements are transforming the face of every business, including sports, with digital tools introducing new ways to watch and play events. Since 2019, IoT devices have been used in the National Football League, and their effect and uses have grown yearly.

From helmet sensors that protect players from concussions to AR filters to give viewers a more interactive experience, these IoT technologies are expected to take center stage in this year’s NFL season.

Sensor Technology

Data tracking & sensor technology advancements in athletics have delivered in-depth insight into players’ performance and contested plays. One idea is to put a small sensor on the football in space that can detect distance, velocity & acceleration to provide a holistic set of metrics that game managers and viewers can use to establish a player profile. Footballs embedded with microchips were used in this year’s preseason games to track and assess ball placement and handling, generating data to inform future games.

The same idea can be utilized for tagging players, collecting data on their movement, speed & game participation. However, it can also go as deep as player aggression, ability to throw in pressure, the time needed to throw, and much more. This data will then be displayed by broadcasters or used by managers to assist build game plays.

Robotic Football

On and off of the field, robotic assistants have become more popular. The Green Bay Packers were the first NFL team to deploy the football-launching robot Seeker during practice this year.

The robotic quarterback includes a six-ball magazine that can shoot footballs in multiple directions in nine seconds and is configured to imitate the roles of various players, including a quarterback, punter, and kicker. Initially designed to give a contactless method of training during the outbreak, the motorized robot can “kick” at speeds of up to 75 mph & throw 500 tosses per hour.

Wearable Technology

Awareness of the risks of head injuries and concussions in football has increased recently, as have technical solutions to prevent such injuries.

One such solution is wearable patches for head impact tracking and brain damage detection. Wearable safety equipment, like the Q-Collar, which acts as a mini airbag to protect players’ brains, is also available.

Smart mouth guards, like those made by Prevent Biometrics, have been developed to detect head injuries, with data from this being sent to a smartphone and then used to understand how to avoid injuries.

Fan-Based Data

Fans are just as important as players in the game, and organizations are collecting data on fan attendance & experience to obtain insight into trends & dynamics.

Point-of-sale systems, computerized ticketing scans, and in-stadium applications track stadium capacity and fan satisfaction. Other mobile apps allow you to order food and drinks to your seats, navigate the stadium, and see instant game replays. Using this information, organizers can improve the concession stand layout & handle any issues raised by attendees.

Augmented Reality (AR)

The fan experience is also being enhanced by augmented reality. Despite the continuing limits, Snapchat launched several new features this year, like AR lenses, to provide fans with a more engaging view of the Super Bowl. Snapchat claims its augmented reality capabilities were utilized by 59 million individuals, with 200 million engagements recorded.

The same technology can provide individuals with a more immersive home-watching experience. The NFL collaborated with Snapchat to develop touchdown celebration dances using 3D AR motion tracking to place viewers alongside their favorite team.

Security Tech

For decades, security systems have gone computerized, and stadiums have increased their screening measures to make games better, safer, and more intelligent.

Evolv’s AI-powered security screening system, which combines computer vision & sensing technologies to scan attendees and identify potentially dangerous items, has been installed at five NFL stadiums. The Acrisure Arena in Pittsburgh is the most recent stadium to incorporate Evolv into its design, with Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, & Tennessee Titans already using it at their home stadiums.

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