UM Innovators Judge NFL Competition

University of Miami and NFL 1st & Future

UM Innovators Judge NFL Competition

Three University of Miami innovators served as judges on a National Football League pitch competition that was designed to boost advancements in athlete health and safety. The event was part of the University’s collaboration with the NFL, which hosted a range of Super Bowl LIV events in Miami this past week. The NFL’s 1st and Future competition (held Friday 2/1/2020 at the Miami Beach Convention Center) reviewed presentations on both innovative product concepts, and, analytics and data models—which compared factors such as natural vs. synthetic turf with the aim of reducing the potential for injury, especially to lower limbs.

Dan Hellie, host of NFL Total Access, emceed the event he described as “a little bit ‘Shark Tank’ and a little bit ‘Oprah’ ” and a “unique and very cool look into the future and the innovation of our great game.”

“This was a great opportunity to celebrate not only our role in the region, but also our efforts and research in the areas of big science, big data, and analytics in general,” said Jeffrey Duerk, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs (far right).  Duerk and Lee Kaplan (center), Director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute, participated as judges on the panel to assess innovative products. Kaplan and Nick Tsinoremas, Vice Provost for Research Computing & Data, and Institute Director, Miami Institute for Data Science & Computing (IDSC), served on the Data Analytics Competition Panel.

NFL 1st and Future Competition Judges 2020 including University of Miami Provost Jeffrey Duerk (far right), Lee Kaplan, Director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute (center), and Nick Tsinoremas Nick Tsinoremas (left), Vice Provost for Research Computing & Data, and Founding Director of the Center for Computational Science (far left)

The Provost highlighted the benefits that the collaboration afforded:  “One of the things that comes out of our participation is expanding our network with high-tech companies, and it provided some validation that the types of projects we’re looking at are really well aligned, not just with research frontiers, but also with the products these companies are looking at,” said Duerk, whose panel included Michelle K. Lee, Vice President of Amazon ML Solutions Lab (fourth from right).  “In the past, our relationship with the NFL has been through our graduates who have gone on to become pioneering players and hall of famers—like Edgerrin James who was elected today. But through networks like this, we’re leveraging relationships beyond our alumni players in entrepreneurship and research—and you can only do that if you seize the opportunity to meet people and highlight our efforts,” the Provost added.

1st Prize

Protect3d from Durham, North Carolina—a team composed of three former Duke University football players majoring in engineering—took home the top prize among the four finalists in the Innovations to Advance Athlete Health and Safety Competition (innovative product concepts category), and was awarded two Super Bowl LIV tickets and $50,000. Their project  leverages 3D scanning and printing technologies to give medical professionals the ability to create anatomically-precise protective devices, each intended to be optimized for an individual athlete’s comfort, mobility and protection.  Their concept was born, they explained, when their team’s quarterback, Daniel Jones, was injured in 2018. Using new technology to perform a precise body scan, they outfitted Jones with a customized device that provided more mobility, comfort, and protection. They advanced their project by developing devices for other players and teams around the country and proposed, as part of their presentation, to expand their market to include youth football leagues and other sports.

2nd Prize

Second-place winner Plantiga Ben Jenkins, a senior at the University of Colorado, who teamed with his father, a retired geologist, won the top prize—$25,000 and two tickets to the Super Bowl—in the NFL Analytics Competition. The student engineer used data to map how deceleration, twisting, and angles increase the potential for lower-limb injuries.

Nick Tsinoremas was impressed with the competition and the quality of the presentations. “It was a very high-level competition with amazingly good contestants,” Tsinoremas said. “It really shows that the NFL is very forward looking to utilize big data, with sensors, cameras, and cutting-edge data science, to reduce injuries.” The Institute for Data Science & Computing, he said, uses similar kinds of techniques and models to those employed by the contestants, that, “of course, have to be adapted,” such as the NFL has done, to explore specific applications.

NFL 1st and Future Competition Judges 2020 including University of Miami Nick Tsinoremas, Vice Provost for Research Computing & Data, and Founding Director of CCS

Jeff Miller, Executive Vice President of Health and Safety Innovation for the NFL, said that the collaboration with the University had been especially successful. “We always look for local partners, and it’s great to have an academic partner who has the expertise and subject matter experts to help evaluate these types of proposals,” Miller said. “There’s a substantial amount of work especially in the early stages—over a hundred proposals—and the University of Miami has been an essential resource in terms of expertise and time to triage them and select those worthy of consideration,” he added.

Norma Kenyon, Vice Provost for Innovation and Chief Innovation Officer, Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine; Will Silverman, Executive Director of the Wallace H. Coulter Center for Translational Research; and the U Innovation team, which includes coaches and mentors from the community, contributed to the event’s success. U Innovation hosted the website that took in all the submissions, helped in selecting the finalists, and coached and mentored contestants for two days at Converge Miami, the UM innovation hub in Miami. Kenyon explained: “It was a lot of work, a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to showcase the University,” Kenyon said, emphasizing that Lee Kaplan and the Sports Medicine Institute played a vital role in the collaboration.

From his perspective as a judge, Kaplan said he learned “a great deal” and was impressed with the caliber of the presentations and the novelty of the contestants’ concepts. The Sports Medicine Institute parallels the NFL’s effort, he said, to seek new and innovative ways to improve health and safety for athletes.

Duerk, who has significant experience developing patents and working with start-ups, appreciated the opportunity to participate from this perspective. “With patents and start-ups, you’re always thinking about paying it forward and helping the next generation, but you also have to be present and current with new ideas—otherwise you can lose touch with things,” he said.

This was the fifth annual NFL 1st and Future. Ideas from past proposals have resulted in new equipment, new drills, and even prompted rule changes.

Participants faced off in front of two panels of judges that included:

  • Jeffrey L. Duerk, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, University of Miami
  • Shelly Ibach, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sleep Number
  • Lee D. Kaplan, M.D., Director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute
  • Michelle Lee, Vice President, Amazon ML Solutions Lab
  • Ryan Nece, NFL Legend, Managing Partner, Next Play Capital, LLC
  • Priya Ponnapalli, M.D., Senior Manager and Principal Data Scientist, Amazon ML Solutions Lab
  • Eugene Shen, Director of Personnel Analytics, Miami Dolphins
  • Michael Swartzon, M.D., Team Physician, Miami Dolphins
  • Nick Tsinoremas, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Research Computing and Data and Founding Director, University of Miami Center for Computational Science
NFL 1st & Future logo

Analytics Competition Finalists

  • Elijah Hall – Seattle  Elijah’s analysis found synthetic fields combined with velocity in zigzag movement patterns introduce a significant increase of risk to lower limb non-contact injuries.
  • Ben Jenkins and Steve Jenkins – Denver  Ben and Steve completed an analysis of NFL data to help uncover factors that contribute to lower limb injuries. This includes advanced machine learning techniques and new visualizations of characterizing player movement.
  • John Miller – Fort Worth, Texas  John created a model that shows the effects of player acceleration, turf type, and weather conditions on lower-body injuries.

Innovations to Advance Athlete Health and Safety Competition

  • Nextiles – Brooklyn, New York  Nextiles builds fabric-based sensors that when sewn into the interior padding of helmets can locate, triangulate and measure forces impacted on a player’s head in order to quantify the factors that contribute to concussions and traumatic brain injuries.
  • Physmodo – Dallas  Using its proprietary human tracking skeleton developed specifically for biomechanics, Physmodo assesses movement patterns through an objective, automated screen in under 30 seconds.
  • Plantiga, Vancouver, British Columbia  Plantiga combines sensor insoles and artificial intelligence that analyze how people move to improve health, injury rehabilitation and performance.
  • Protect3d, Durham, North Carolina  Protect3d leverages 3D scanning and printing technologies to give medical professionals the ability to create anatomically-precise protective devices, each optimized for an individual athlete’s comfort, mobility and protection.


SOURCE:  “University Innovators Judged NFL Competition Designed to Advance Player Health and Safety” NEWS@TheU 02/03/2020