Intel assists NFL hopefuls with 3D athlete tracking and AI insights

A partnership with the human performance company EXOS aims to help college football stars hone their game ahead of the NFL draft.

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Kim Klement, Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft is quickly approaching and thousands of former college players are training hard to prove they belong in the big leagues, working with trainers and experts to hone their skills and reach their peak performance during the NFL's College Pro Days that will take place between March 5 and April 9. 

To help players figure out what they need to work on, human performance company EXOS and Intel are partnering together on an AI program called 3D Athlete Tracking that will assist in identifying areas of improvement. 

"There's a massive gap in the sports and movement field, between what people feel when they move and what they actually know that they're doing," said Ashton Eaton, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon and Intel's product development engineer in the Olympic Technology Group. 

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"When I was running the 100-meter dash, I'd work with my coach to make adjustments to shave off fractions of a second, but it was all by feel. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, because I didn't fully know what my body was actually doing. But 3DAT allows athletes to understand precisely what their body is doing while in motion, so they can precisely target where to make tweaks to get faster or better."

EXOS works with some of the country's best college players and had 14 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft last year, including No.  2 pick Chase Young and dozens of others in the remaining six rounds

This year, EXOS is hoping Intel's program will allow it to help clients get leaner, shave a few seconds off of their 40-yard dashes, and identify small tics or movements that may be negatively affecting their game.

According to Intel, 3D Athlete Tracking provides users with an avalanche of data covering a person's speed, velocity, body movement and much more using AI. 

"Metrics that were previously unmeasurable by the naked eye are now being revealed with Intel's 3DAT technology. We're able to take that information, synthesize it and turn it into something tangible for our coaches and athletes," explained Monica Laudermilk, vice president of research at EXOS.

"It's a game-changer when the tiniest of adjustments can lead to real, impactful results for our athletes." 

Eaton said the system will put valuable information into the hands of coaches and experts who can make significant changes to how players move and perform on the field. In a statement, he noted that the kind of insights provided by 3D Athlete Tracking was either "non-existent or hard to get" up until this point. 

The system involves filming athletes as they train and performing skeletal analysis, all without any weighty sensors. 

Using Intel's Xeon Scalable processors and its Deep Learning Boost AI, video of training sessions is analyzed and reports are created providing in-depth overviews. 

Intel will also be getting a lot of help from EXOS clients who will share feedback about how the system works and could be improved. 

"3DAT is giving us information, and insight, not just into the technique of how people are running and how they can improve, but also what might be holding them back," said Craig Friedman, senior vice president of the performance innovation team at EXOS.   

"This data enables us to make adjustments in the weight room to help unlock more potential on the field."

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