Virtual Training for Football is Becoming a Reality
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Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies are expected to revolutionize the way people work, communicate, and consume web content. In addition, VR will change the way athletes train and prepare for competitive sports events. A good example is American football where coaches and players are leveraging the power of VR and AR technologies to improve performance during training sessions. In the near future, most industry experts and analysts expect VR and AR to spawn markets worth billions of dollars because they offer immersive experiences unmatched by any existing technology.
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An Overview of AR and VR Industries
Currently, a VR headset retails for about $200 and includes features for connecting to mobile devices such as smartphones. In comparison, the average cost of a VR headset was a whopping $40,000 as recently as 2014, which made it too expensive for the average consumer. By 2018, about 171 million people are expected to be active users of VR-based applications and devices while products based on VR technology are expected to generate revenues in excess of $5 billion. What’s more, VR industry annual revenues are likely to exceed $15 billion by 2020 as VR applications gain mass appeal among consumers. On the other hand, the value of AR applications is projected to be $3.6 billion by 2018, which is particularly significant considering AR technology generated revenues of $300 million by the end of 2015. Financial experts expect these two industries to have a combined market value of $150 billion at the end of 2020. Of the two, AR applications will be the most dominant with a market value of $130 billion, according to projections from the market research company Digi-Capital. The market for VR applications, which was worth only $108.8 million in 2014, will grow at a rate of 142% (CAGR) to reach $21.8 billion at the end of 2020. The total number of VR and AR devices sold will rise from 2.5 million by the end of 2015 to 24 million by 2018.
The Use of VR in American Football Training
Some NFL and NCAA teams are using virtual reality technology provided by STRIVR, a VR company, to enhance their training sessions. Examples of NFL teams using VR during training include the New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, and San Francisco 49ers. NCAA teams deploying the same technology in training include Dartmouth, Arkansas, Auburn, Stanford, Rice, Vanderbilt, and Michigan University. STRIVR’s VR technology has been so beneficial it is credited with helping the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals to reach the NFL playoffs in 2015. During training, players wear headsets that enable them to view various scenarios including how an upcoming opponent moves across the field. In addition, quarterbacks can watch their own performance such as footwork during recorded training drills. In fact, the Minnesota Vikings are using STRIVR’s VR gear for quarterback training. Thanks to STRIVR’s VR technology, the completion percentage of Stanford University’s quarterback Kevin Hogan improved from 63.8% to 76.3% during games that Stanford won.
How VR Aids Athletes
For starters, VR enables a football player to go through various training scenarios such as practice runs with fully padded defenders attacking his weak side. Young players can use VR headsets as virtual playbooks. More importantly, VR devices allow players to perform more virtual practice runs and reps than they would be able to in real training sessions. At the same time, psychologists are now combining VR technology with cognitive behavioral therapy to help athletes overcome anxiety and performance pressure.
Using VR in Football Recruitment
College football recruitment is a highly competitive process that often determines the future professional prospects of aspiring players. To enhance this process and level the playing field, Iowa State University’s athletic department and the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) have built the most advanced and highest resolution, six-sided VR environment in the world, as well as an inexpensive head-mounted display (HMD). The VR environment, C6, is a better and more immersive alternative to the traditional game day experience. A user study found that both the C6 and the HMD are huge improvements over the traditional practice of using recorded videos to recreate the atmosphere of ISU Cyclones football games. Moreover, VR technology has made it easier for students to take college tours from the comfort of their homes thereby cutting the huge expenses associated with taking such tours in-person. For example, students can use a VR headset to tour campus centers, dormitories, cafeterias, classrooms, and libraries. It is expected that colleges will soon start offering online classes via VR thereby enabling students to participate in discussions as if they were in a real classroom.
VR and the Future of Football
Industry experts and analysts expect VR technology to become a mainstay of NFL’s coaching, recruiting, and scouting practices. For instance, scouts can use VR to determine whether a QB is at the right location or aiming at the right target. Moreover, VR provides more in-depth analysis of plays than traditional scouting. VR technology will also enable scouts to identify physical and mechanical flaws that have made some seemingly gifted athletes fail. It is also worth noting that VR devices provide scouts with unique data sets that they can use to evaluate players. Coaches will also be able to identify where players are looking during plays. As such, they can use personalized VR coaching sessions to correct mistakes without necessarily requiring players to line up in the field flanked by defensive formations.
The NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has tasked STRIVR with exploring ways of using VR to enhance off-field behavior.
Currently, the VR devices that athletes use do not allow them to move around their virtual environments while device cameras tend to have glitch issues. Nevertheless, STRIVR creator Derek Belch says teams will be able to upload actual game film into VR devices within 50 years.
The Benefits of VR Entertainment
Sports fans can use VR devices to immerse themselves in stadium experiences without necessarily leaving their homes. In the same vein, video game enthusiasts can use VR devices to enter virtual environments where they are the characters instead of just controlling an on-screen character.
Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies will substantially change the way society functions in the near future. Currently, NFL and NCAA teams are using VR technology in training to improve plays, on field positioning, and situational awareness under pressure. Scouts are also using VR to evaluate promising players.
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