Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Dartmouth Engineering Students and Football Coach Invent Tackling Dummy to Reduce Injuries

By Anna Fiorentino
October 2014 • Thayer By Degrees: BE

Mobile Tackling Target
Mobile Tackling Target

Last year, just prior to the $870 million settlement compensating thousands of NFL players for concussion-related injuries, Dartmouth head football coach Eugene Teevens sponsored an Engineering Design Methodology class project. The student group, comprised of M.S. student Elliot Kastner '13 Th'14, Quinn Connell '13 Th'14, Andrew Smist '13 Th'14 and M.E.M. student Noah Glennon Th'14, developed a device to help players tackle more safely and reduce these all too common injuries.

With assistance from their project manager, Research Engineer John Currier, the students and Teevens obtained a provisional patent last December for their automated tackling dummy, called the Mobile Tackling Target, to replace the static pop-up ones now used by players. The team hopes to hold an official patent within the year for the device, which last spring also landed them in the top three for the most inventive undergraduate student invention at the ‪Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize competition.

The Mobile Tackling Target will be the only powered tackling device to simulate a real football player in size, weight and agility by replicating an in-game tackling experience.

“We created it to eliminate player-on-player contact during tackling drills, while maintaining the level of challenge associated with a real live person,” says Kastner. He and everyone on the team is at minimum a sports fan, while some also play football or rugby.

At a small-scale manufacturing cost of around $5,000 per dummy, they hope to sell this large padded humanoid—created out of pourable foam using the Machine Shop’s 3 axis router—to professional- and collegiate-level teams in the near future. The Mobile Tackling Target is anchored by a ball structure driven by omni wheels to direct the ball in any direction. These immediate directional changes simulate a player dodging a tackle. While it’s currently remotely controlled, the team plans to eventually drive the system with preprogrammed routes and drills through Bluetooth. First, Coach Teevens and Kastner will continue to raise funds for their dummy.

Mobile Tackling Target ball mechanism with omni wheels.
Ball mechanism with omni wheels.

“Our takeaway from the Lemelson competition, which we were nominated for by Professor of Engineering William Lotko, was that in order to keep developing our device successfully, we are going to need intrinsic motivation outside of winning funding,” says Kastner.  

“We hope the devices’ longevity and ability to replace multiple tackling pads will ultimately motivate teams’ purchase of the Mobile Tackling Target,” adds Kastner. “However, the benefits of reducing concussions at practice and in games are worth significantly more to a team.”

Tags: award, design, innovation, machine shop, patent, projects, students

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