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The Fully Wired Football Uniform: A Deconstruction

A playbook of the newest gadgets making their way onto the football field.

During the NFL’s annual predraft training combine back in March, scouts measured defensive back and Oakland Raiders pick Obi Melifonwu’s vertical jump, 40-yard dash, and shuttle-drill speed. Not to mention his blood pressure and a detailed breakdown of his muscle movements—all tracked in real time via a high-tech undershirt and shorts studded with biosensors. That outfit is just one of the latest entries in a growing lineup of wearable technology finding its way onto the field. With the NFL season kicking off this month, we compiled a scouting report on the tech that—like Melifonwu—seems poised to make a mark on the game in the near future. 

❶ Virtual Reality: Strivr
When former Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards, now the cofounder of Strivr, first snapped on his company’s VR goggles, he felt transported “back onto the field.” The tech allows players to run through complex reps in a realistic, if imaginary, setting—all without worrying about getting blasted by a blitzing linebacker. Strivr has already entered into partnerships with six NFL teams, including the 49ers.

❷ Next-Gen Mouth Guard: Athlete Intelligence
Embedded with an accelerometer and a gyroscope, Athlete Intelligence’s Vector monitors how a player’s skull moves after impact, then sends that data to the sidelines. With the ability to track hit counts—as well as the severity of a hit—from inside an athlete’s head, the Vector is already being used by 17 college teams.

❸ Smart Undergarments: Athos
Melifonwu was one of several prospects who suited up for the NFL combine in Athos’s compression shirts and shorts, which are studded with plastic panels that measure electrical signals generated by different muscles. An app gathers all that data and indicates how an athlete is, or isn’t, working each muscle group. In other words: Don’t forget leg day!

❹ 3-D Printed Shoes: Adidas/Carbon 
When it comes to winning the war of 3-D printed footwear, we’re betting on Adidas: In April, the German company teamed up with Silicon Valley startup Carbon to unveil the Futurecraft 4D, with a sole custom-printed to fit an athlete’s weight and gait. The company hopes to sell 5,000 pairs this year.

❺ Wearable Camera: First Vision
Want to see the hole in the offensive line that Marshawn Lynch (depicted above) sees, from his perspective? Spanish startup First Vision has created a microcamera that rests on players’ chests and captures their point of view, beaming footage right into your television. More than 30 college and NFL teams have already started using similar cameras during practice to study each play from the athletes’ POVs.

❻ Neuropriming Headset: Halo Neuroscience
It evokes an Orwellian torture device and looks like Beats by Dre. Halo Neuroscience’s headset applies an electrical pulse to the part of the brain that controls movement. The stimulation supposedly increases neurons’ ability to build new connections to muscles, increasing athletic performance. Skeptical? The Golden State Warriors have been using them for two years now, and things have worked out OK for them.

❼ High-Tech Helmet: Vicis
The most contentious issue in football is brain health. Enter Vicis, a Seattle startup that, beginning this year, is equipping both NFL and NCAA teams with its high-tech helmet. The Vicis Zero1’s outer shell was designed to temper the forces thought to cause concussions. It’s the result of three years and $20 million of research and development, efforts that seem to be paying off—the Zero1 ranked highest in a recent NFL/NFLPA Helmet Laboratory performance test.

 

Originally published in the September issue of San Francisco 

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