Score! Engineering startup wins NFL innovation competition

NFL Shirt
By: Erin Philipson

Organic Robotics Corporation (ORC), co-founded by Robert Shepherd, associate professor in the Cornell Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, won the top award at the NFL’s 1st and Future Pitch Competition in the Innovations to Advance Athlete Health and Safety category. The annual competition is in partnership with Amazon Web Services, Inc. and is designed to spur novel advancements in athlete safety and performance.

Shepherd and Samilgil

ORC was founded in 2018 by Shepherd and former Ph.D. student, Ilayda Samilgil ’19. The company won $50,000 for its product, Light Lace™, designed to use light to measure muscle fatigue, respiration, and motion. The stretchable sensor can be integrated into garments or even helmets, and the information generated aims to help athletes and training staff better assess injury risk factors while optimizing performance.

Light Lace™ sensors can bend and twist with the human form for motion capture, muscle activity, and respiration measurements. Based on fiber-optic technology, Light Lace™ offers sensibility, elasticity, and washability at a fraction of the cost. The technology relies on photonics instead of electronics.

Matt Miller, former NFL player and professor in the Sibley School believes this technology that provides real-time information about the evolving state of the player is a huge and much-needed advancement.

“The data can be used to calibrate our understanding of what goes on inside an NFL player during a typical game,” says Miller. “No one has quantified that before. Having data acquired in real-time from onboard sensors could go a long way towards preventing permanent, crippling damage.”

ORC envisions its Light Lace™ technology being used for a range of applications including in healthcare to monitor pressure ulcers and improve telehealth diagnosis, in smart cars to monitor in-vehicle passenger behavior and child presence, in the training of high-resolution touch perception and whole-body tracking for AR/VR simulations and in smart robots with touch sensitivity and improved grasping.

Samilgil and Shepherd pitched their product virtually from Ithaca to a panel of judges from a variety of industries. 

The panel included:

  • Priya Ponnapalli, Ph.D., Senior Manager, and Principal Scientist, Amazon Machine Learning Solutions Lab
  • Reggie Scott, Vice President, Sports Medicine and Performance, Los Angeles Rams
  • Allen Sills, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, National Football League
  • DeMarcus Ware, 9-time Pro Bowl NFL Player, Super Bowl Champion, Founder of Driven To Win and 3VOLT Fitness
  • Gary Vaynerchuk, Chairman, VaynerX, CEO, VaynerMedia, Co-Founder, Resy and Empathy Wines

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