Thanks to Student Engineers, These Ivy League Athletes are Heating Up

By Ken Liebeskind

Who said scholars and student athletes can’t coexist?

In the first half of the fall semester, a cohort of engineering students at Yale University learned the ins and outs of mechanical, chemical, electrical and biomedical engineering. In the second half, though, things got interesting: They broke up into groups to complete a project that would satisfy a campus client.

Five students teamed up to develop a practice device for the Yale men’s lacrosse team that will assist the athletes with shooting targets and protecting goalies. The device—a frame with six panels arranged in an “L” shape—is placed in one of the goal’s corners and allows players to shoot into the net without a goalie there.

So what exactly does this thing do?

“The purpose is to give offensive players the opportunity to shoot without jeopardizing the safety of our goalies,” said Jack Runkel, assistant lacrosse coach at Yale. “Shooters can take up to 300 shots a day, while goalies can’t react to more than 60 to 70 shots a day. After that, their hand-eye coordination goes down and the risk of thumb injuries increases.”

The computerized device’s program, which is loaded into a small chip, is connected to the device from a box stationed behind the goal. Coaches or players can select which of the targets they want to hit, and if they hear a positive chirping sound, their shot was successful. (The negative beep, however, means better luck next time.)

“We saw the tools that teams use to practice and spoke with the coaches to hear what they enjoy about the tools and what didn’t work. [Then] we settled on the idea of some sort of grid system,” said Pamela Banner, a freshman on the design team.

Trevor Shim, another freshman engineer, added, “We looked at Hector the Rejector, a lacrosse training kit that attaches to the goal with holes in the net, but it doesn’t last long so we made it more durable with a circuit that can be read into each panel.”

“We applied what we learned about coding and electronics to make something that would be easy for players and coaches to use,” Banner explained.

“We decided sound feedback would be feasible to code for and we wanted players and coaches to have a hand in deciding what target they were aiming for. So the controller is a system with five channels so they can choose which panels to target. We went out to practice and knew it was a good mechanism for motivating players.”

“With a remote handheld controller and a number of switches, we can say, ‘Okay guys, today we’re shooting at panels 3 and 4,’” Coach Runkel said. “I think it’s going to provide us a competitive advantage.”

That advantage will be tested on February 18, when the Yale lacrosse team kicks off the season against Villanova University after using the new device for about a week.

Is innovation truly in action? Guess we’ll find out.

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