In 2013, a team of UTSA College of Engineering students, led by Prof. Yusheng Feng, worked with the Roadrunner football team, to develop a football kicking simulator. The full-scale, indoor simulator (FKS 1.0) aimed to improve a kickers performance by providing real-time data while the ball is kicked a ball toward a display screen with pressure sensors to determine the trajectory of the ball from the collected data, and displaying predicted flight path of the ball within a virtual world in the simulated real world environment such as 3D display and cheering sound.
As advanced as it was, some major drawbacks to the system were cost and space restriction. The kicker had to have a dedicated room at his disposal. But now, two years later, engineering students and Roadrunner football kickers Daniel Portillo and Yannis Routsas are working with a smaller and more portable tracking device system (FSK 2.0) that could possibly change the way football kickers, from the middle school level all the way up to the pros, train. Moreover, the goals are augmented with mitigation of injury risk by analyzing body motion using biomechanics and kinesiology principles, as well as studying eye-body motion coordination.
“The current system consists of multi-dimensional sensor system to track body motion, eye movement and ball velocity,” said Daniel Portillo, a sophomore mechanical engineering student and kicker for the Roadrunner football team. “The system is designed optimize kicking performance and reduce the chance of injury. What we are looking for is basically the best way to kick.”
Just as golfers and baseball players all have different swings to hit the ball, a kicker also has a ‘swing’ that he can perfect to develop the perfect form. In the FSK 2.0 system, approximately 40 reflective makers are fixed to the kicker’s body. These markers are tracked by eight motion capture cameras. This motion tracking technology allows 3D plotting of body motion at each key point of the kicking movement. Based on that information, Saki Oyama, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Health, and Nutrition uses biomechanical equations and algorithms to calculate various movement parameters.
“We can calculate joint angles and velocities,” said Oyama. “We can describe how the joints are moving, and how fast the joints are moving. We will use that information to identify the key parameters for performance and injury development.”
The data collected from the sensors and cameras are combined with information gathered from the eye tracking software in the glasses worn by the kicker as well as the data gathered miniature motion sensor placed in the top of the football. When all of the data are integrated, these engineering student athletes hope that they can break the code to what makes a perfect kick.
“There are not many places where you can do two things you love at the same time, and UTSA is one of ‘um,” said Yannis Routsas, a freshman mechanical engineering student and punter for the Roadrunner football team. “Combining football and engineering together, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
According to Prof. Feng, director of the Center for Simulation, Visualization, and Real Time Prediction (SiViRT), once this project is completed, the FKS 2.0 can be deployed to the field for real-time data collection.
“With mathematical modeling and software support, we hope to provide insight to both coaches and plays with quantified information to design optimal training protocols,” Feng said.
Feng says that as a professor, there is nothing that makes him happier than to nurture students and see them grow on a fun and meaning project such as this one.
“This is particularly very exciting project since both football kickers on the current Roadrunner football team, Daniel Portillo and Yannis Routsas, are also engineering students who invented the ball tracking and impact location detect devices,” he said. “I can see from their eyes how excited they are when they realized that their engineering creativity can be directly applied to the sport they love.”
Click on the photo below to see photo album and learn more about the project.