By Dan Guttenplan
Concussions are at the forefront of the football discussion as recent trends have shown decreased participation numbers due to concerns about the risk of head injuries. The MVP, or Mobile Virtual Player, was designed to take the type of violent, repeated hits that can injure the brains of human players.
In 2013, a team of undergraduate engineering students at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., sought a technological solution to the problem of concussions and other injuries that occur in practice. The goal for the engineering students was to invent a robotic tackling dummy that could move like a real player and take the hits during practice sessions. By serving as a realistic stand-in, a robot would reduce player-on-player impacts during tackling drills, when many head injuries occur.
“The Dartmouth coach (Buddy Teevens) was getting to game day every Saturday, and he didn’t have his best players on the field,” MVP CEO Joe McLaughlin said. “After an 0-10 season, he decided to eliminate tackling from practice. He then realized he still needed practice reps, so he went to the engineering school and asked them to come up with an idea.”
Teevens has since testified at a U.S. congressional hearing on concussions and his motivation for introducing the MVP into his practices.
“I love the game of football, but I love my players more,” said Teevens while testifying before the committee to describe his radical response to this crisis.
The Dartmouth engineers partnered with a sports equipment company to manufacture commercial units, and the Mobile Virtual Player was the result.
On opening day of Dartmouth’s 2015 football camp, two prototype MVPs joined the burly players in their first tackling drill. The prototypes didn’t make it through the first season in tact, so the engineers went back to the lab to fix the malfunctioning parts. By 2016, the Dartmouth engineers were ready to put the MVPs to market. The MVP Drive is now used by half of the teams in the NFL, 50 college football teams and 80 high school teams.
The MVP has lowered concussions at Dartmouth by 58 percent since the Big Green started using the product in practice. Dartmouth went 9-1 in 2018 and allowed the second fewest points in the FCS.
While the $8,000 price tag for the MVP Drive was beyond the means of many high school teams, new technology is making the product more affordable. In an attempt to further saturate the high school market, the MVP engineers recently created the MVP Kheiron, a slightly smaller model that will retail for $3,450.
The Kheiron will travel at speeds up to 16 mph and has a battery life of 3 to 5 hours. Roughly 160 pounds in weight, it is designed to move like a high school skill position player. The unit will be made available to high school through Rogers Athletic.
Mobile Virtual Player