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Steelers experimenting with robots in practice

In an effort to increase safety, the Pittsburgh Steelers have brought in robots for defensive tackling practices. Will robots ever replace humans on the football field? Mike Florio weighs in.

We’ve seen virtual reality training and other manners of technology take a place in the football landscape in recent years and now robotics has made its way to the field.

The Steelers have spent some time this offseason experimenting with Mobile Virtual Player, a robotic tackling dummy developed at Dartmouth College as a tool to work on tackling that limits the amount of player-on-player contact during a practice session. The robot is still in a testing phase, but can move, weave, cut, speed up and otherwise mimic a ball-carrier.

Coach Mike Tomlin and his staff are figuring out other uses for the robots, which creators hope will become more widely available in 2017.

“The applications we are quickly finding are endless,” Tomlin said, via the team’s website (which also has video of the robot in action). “It never gets tired. It runs at an appropriate football speed. All of the position groups are getting an opportunity to use it. It’s funny, you just put it on the field and watch the guys and they show you the applications. It’s been fun watching that. ... I imagine it’s a great tool from a tackling tech standpoint. In today’s NFL, with player safety the focus that it is, I think it’s going to provide opportunities to improve in that area without the hand to hand or man to man combat associated with that teaching.”

Should the robots start tackling back, Tomlin and company will have other issues to deal with. Good thing time travel has come up with a solution for those moments when artificial intelligence pushes things a little too far.