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How Does the 49ers New Virtual Reality Training Regimen Work?

NFL teams are taking a serious look at Stanford technology, in spite of silly looking goggles.


The San Jose Mercury News is reporting that the 49ers will be using virtual reality to train backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert. This seems a bit of a stretch given the casual relationship many Bay Area sports stars even have with actual reality, but some big brains at Stanford are betting that this is the start of a beautiful friendship between VR companies and the NFL.

Jeremy Bailenson, a researacher in Stanford's communications department, has been exploring and improving on VR technology at the university‘s Virtual Human Interaction Lab for decades. Last year Derek Belch, a Master’s student in Bailenson’s lab and a former Stanford kicker, decided to pitch the latest devices as a training tool for teams and founded a company on the idea, STRIVR. “This is to games tapes what a PC is to a typewriter,” says Evan Moore, a six-year NFL vet formerly with the Packers and Seahawks and now a STRIVR executive. In addition to the Niners, the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots will incorporate STRIVR tech into their training regimen this season.

Our big question is, how does it work? (Actually, our question is does it work, but they’re related.) Moore explained: First, a team captures footage of a practice session by putting one of the company’s spherical cameras on the field and having it record in every direction (a bit similar to how Google Maps creates Street View). Later, when a player straps on the helmet, he navigates through menus using his eyes and calls up whichever plays from the recorded session he wants to review. That’s when things get potentially freaky.

Once the replay is cued up the trainee sees things from the camera’s position and can look in any direction on the field (that is to say, on the spherical video recording of the field) to observe things he missed the first time. The POV remains in a fixed position; they could provide video playback from a moving camera, but apparently it’s not a good idea. “People get motion sick,” says Moore. “The technology just isn’t there yet to let us do that in a way that doesn’t create problems.”

In theory, the result is extra reps for the player without taking any new hits, and with the added benefit of seeing everything on the field. It sounds kooky, but teams are taking it seriously. Right now STRIVR has the three NFL clients plus four colleges, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are working with East Coast competitor Eon Sports VR. And of course, if it works for football players there are any number of other kinds of potential clients that would probably be interested. (Read: The Pentagon. Nobody’s saying it, and STRIVR execs shy away from the question, but the potential is right there.)

Anyone's guess whether this will catch on or sputter out, but it looks like the video goggles have come a long way since '90s arcades. Provided you pack a barf bag for that little motion sickness problem.



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