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NFL Using 'Digital Athlete' for Concussion Research

Andy Berg
Adrian Curiel Gpd Uf Iloo M Unsplash

The National Football League is hoping that artificial intelligence can help reduce concussions in athletes.

The NFL “Digital Athlete” is an artificial intelligence tool that uses TV images and sensors embedded in helmets, mouth guards and shoulder pads to try to reduce injuries.

The tool creates a digital replica of an NFL athlete in a virtual environment. Using machine learning and computer vision technology, the tool then pinpoints impacts and injuries and helps researchers find new ways to improve player safety.


“Having the computers understand how many times a player hits his helmet during the course of a game [helps] find ways to reduce the amount of helmet contact,” ,” Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president, told New Scientist.

Within the environment generated by the tool, an infinite number of game scenarios can be run, “giving the ability to test out new safety equipment, test out rule changes and predict player injury events and recovery trajectories eventually”, says Dr Priya Ponnapalli, principal scientist at Amazon Machine Learning Solutions Lab.

“What we’ve shown, I would say pretty definitively, is the relationship between years of play and risk of the disease,” said Jesse Mez, Associate Professor of Neurology at Boston University.  Mez hopes that the NFL will make more data available for study, “right now no helmet sensor data [is] made available to any investigators at universities. I think that would be very valuable data for us to be able to implement.”

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