New Football Helmet Cameras See What Players See

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap’s Sports Science Expert.

During the recent (and exhausting) NFL Draft, there was plenty of expert commentary on what makes up the “right stuff” when evaluating quarterbacks.  Everything from arm strength to height to foot skills to the size of their hands was measured and dissected to find the magic combination of variables.  While the body mechanics of delivering a football on target are vital, QBs rely even more on their vision, both before and after the ball is snapped. 

It’s not just knowing where and when to look at an opposing defense, but understanding what to look for across the line is key as well. Defensive players are taught to “read the eyes” of the quarterback to gain clues to the play call.  Coaches ask their QBs, “What are you seeing out there?” or “Where were you looking on that play?”  Now, with the help of an innovative helmet camera, coaches, players and maybe even fans can get behind the mask to get answers to those pressing questions.

At the 2014 American Football Coaches Association in Indianapolis, Schutt Sports, a long-time manufacturer of football helmets, partnered with Sports Video Innovations to demonstrate a new type of first-person field view by embedding an HD camera just above a helmet’s facemask.  While other sports have experimented with GoPro cameras strapped on the head, the physical contact of football required something that was impact-resistant, lightweight and safe.

At this point, the NCAA and state high school sports associations don’t allow live video on the field for coaching purposes during games. But the new “Schutt Vision” helmets can provide new perspectives on practice, especially live scrimmages.

With a small control unit on the back, including a power switch and SD card to store the video, the helmet has passed all impact tests and has been approved by NOCSAE for player safety.

The University of Miami, one of several top DI programs to quickly sign with Schutt Vision, had senior quarterback Ryan Williams wear the all-seeing headgear during a two-minute drill at one of their spring practices.  Here’s what Williams and, eventually his coaches, saw:

Any player on the field could wear one of the $1,200 helmets to capture their specific perspective, not just QBs.  Here’s the view from University of Miami’s linebacker Denzel Perryman showing the required speed and reaction time to shed a blocker and find the ball carrier.

Beyond the obvious coaching opportunities, football TV producers can’t wait to get their hands on the live, wireless feed from the helmet cam. In fact, the Arena Football League has already signed up to offer their viewers the in-your-face camera angle.

Having video of what the front of a player’s helmet is seeing is one thing, but engineering students at Georgia Tech have taken the next step to be even more specific about that player’s actual gaze targets. Rather than pointing a camera out at the field, the QB Eye Direction Tracking Helmet turns it around to watch the pupils of the quarterback. 

By combining the recorded movement of the pupils as they watch the action with a magnetometer in the helmet, the students were able to produce a “field of view” cone that shows the angle of vision at any moment in time. This video shows how the helmet works and the information it can provide to players and coaches:

While Schutt Vision shows the actual view of the field, the Georgia Tech prototype can help explain how gaze changes, known as saccades, can help a player to see his target while not staring down a receiver. Using peripheral vision angles helps fool linebackers and safeties who are trying to read a QB.

Now that the impact safety of these devices has been proven, the quality and cost of the video production will dwindle over time.  Film sessions no longer have to be from high above the field but actually from each player’s unique perspective. Integrated microphones are the next logical step, giving us the multi-sensory experience of being inside the helmet.


Photo credit to Sports Video Innovations.

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: May 27 2014

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