NFL and AWS build “The Digital Athlete”: What is it?

The Digital Athlete is a virtual representation of an NFL player that can be used to better predict and eventually prevent player injury.

For quite some time now, we have seen the integration of new-age technologies in the world of sports as well. The National Football League (NFL) has built a partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) for many years now. Just days ago, the NFL announced that it has been working with AWS to use AI and machine learning to build the “Digital Athlete“. The Digital Athlete is a virtual representation of an NFL player that can be used to better predict and eventually prevent player injury.

What is a digital athlete?

NFL explained that “The Digital Athlete” uses AWS’ technology to NFL’s data on player activity, equipment choices, speeds, and weather, to work on getting a better understanding of injuries that players face.

Image: NFL

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With the enormous amount of data generated during each NFL play, the algorithms can run simulations of in-game scenarios to understand the impact on player health and safety, added NFL. 

Innovation in Player Health and Safety

NFL has been actively taking steps to use various facets of technology to improve player health and safety. It recently talked about a few of the ongoing initiatives along with “The Digital Athlete” in this direction.

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Helmet Testing

Engineers at Biocore, NFL’s engineering partner, have built a system of testing, scoring, and ranking the effectiveness of helmets. It can help bring about more innovation in this space and largely bring about improvements in the helmet industry.

Using data for rule changes

The NFL says that from as early as 2002, it has used data to inform more than 50 rule changes to remove dangerous tackles, which has reduced the risk of injury of players.

Collecting data 

The NFL uses different sources such as tags of players’ equipment and video analysis to collect sufficient data about every player’s every move on the field. NFL says that this kind of analysis helps provide context and better understanding as to where, when and how injuries can occur while playing.

Biomechanical testing device

The NFL has also developed a biomechanical testing device called the “BEAST” that analyses the interaction between players’ cleats and the surface of football fields. This can be used to see if excessive forces are transmitted to players’ bodies.

Use of machine learning and analytics 

The NFL has been using various technologies from AWS to enhance the health and safety of players. Some of the mechanisms are:

Machine Learning

The NFL uses data analytics and machine learning to improve the accuracy, speed, and insights given by the Next Gen Stats platform.

Business intelligence 

It uses Amazon QuickSight to get better insights as well as allow more engagement of broadcasters, editorial and fans with the data.

Image: Amazon

Amazon SageMaker

The NFL uses Amazon SageMaker to build, train, and run predictive models, which have helped reduce the time to get results significantly. It added that SageMaker is also used to compute the probability that any given pass will be completed based on certain information. These include the distance of the pass, the receiver’s separation from the nearest defender, the player’s spot on the field, etc.

Amazon SageMaker is also used to predict how many rushing yards a ball-carrier is expected to gain on a given carry based on the factors such as relative location, speed, and direction of blockers and defenders.

Sports and tech working in sync

It is not just the NFL that is venturing into using AI, ML, and the power of data to improve sports by leveraging tech. Other big names in sports, too, are collaborating with tech giants to bring about innovation in sports science.

F1 and AWS

AWS has also teamed up with F1 and is using tech to bring rapid technological changes. They are using data to improve the performance of both vehicles and drivers. Amazon said, “By using AWS high-performance computing, F1 was able to run aerodynamic simulations to develop its next-generation car 70 per cent faster than ever before. F1 is also looking at the use of machine learning in its simulation process.

F1 also uses around seventy years of historical race data stored on Amazon S3. It is analysed by complex models and shared with fans, showing effects of split-second decision-making and revealing player performances through advanced stats. AWS also has collaborations with NHL, PGA Tour and Bundesliga.

LaLiga and Microsoft

Last year, LaLiga teamed up with Microsoft to develop new tech and use the existing solutions for driving innovation in the sports industry.

Azure Event Hubs, Azure Data Lake, and Azure Machine Learning will provide better match coverage through data enhancement and personalised streaming options. They also said that LaLiga will offer newer viewing experiences such as augmented reality, virtual reality and 3-D replays.

Microsoft said that venue managers will also benefit from tech innovations. Power BI and Azure will streamline stadium operations, and usage of 5G will provide unified in-stadium experiences.

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by Vijayalakshmi Anandan

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Sreejani Bhattacharyya
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