Super Bowl AI: How the NFL’s ‘Digital Athlete’ Helps Reduce Concussions


The National Football League (NFL) has developed an artificial intelligence tool that uses television images and sensors embedded in helmets, mouth guards and shoulder pads to try to reduce injuries during American football games.

The NFL “Digital Athlete”, developed with the help of Amazon Web Services, creates a digital replica of an NFL athlete in a virtual environment. Using machine learning and computer vision technology, it identifies impacts and injuries and helps find ways to make players safer.

“Making computers understand how many times a player hits their helmet during a game,” says NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller, “[helps] find ways to reduce the number of contacts with the helmet”.

Within this virtual environment, an infinite number of game scenarios and environmental situations can be run, “providing the ability to test new safety equipment, test rule changes, and predict player injury events and trajectories. term recovery,” says Dr. Priya Ponnapalli, Principal Scientist at Amazon Machine Learning Solutions Lab.

Head trauma in NFL games has already been linked with brain damage in ex-footballers. As a result, injury risks for athletes participating in collision sports have been more prominently reported during the last years.

A 2017 study of 111 brains obtained from deceased former NFL players, 99% suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease. “What we’ve shown, I would say pretty definitively, is the relationship between years of play and disease risk,” said Jesse Mez, associate professor of neurology at Boston University. Mez hopes the NFL will make more data available for study, “at this time, no helmet sensor data [is] made available to all university researchers. I think that would be very valuable data that we could implement,” he says.

Ultimately, the more measures taken to reduce injuries can only be a good thing, “the more healthier players there are, the better it is for everyone and that is our goal”, says Miller.



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