ITHACA, N.Y.  –– The founders of the Organic Robotics Corporation (ORC), a company with ties to Cornell, will be on prime time television Tuesday night presenting their innovative new sports tech in a pitch competition sponsored by the National Football League (NFL).

The NFL, in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), is hosting its sixth annual 1st and Future competition –– a program with up to $150,000 in awards given out to start-ups pitching their safety innovations and crowdsourced data analysis using insights from the NFL-AWS partnership. The first prize in the ORC team’s category (Innovations to Advance Player Health and Safety Competition) is $50,0000. The second category is the NFL Computer Vision Competition, which looks to analyze game data to model a computer vision system for detecting on-field helmet impacts during NFL plays.

The program will air Tuesday night, February 2, at 8:00 p.m. For the first time, the event will be broadcast in primetime on NFL Network.

Three other start-ups are competing against ORC with their technologies to improve player health and safety, again with a $50,000 grand prize and a $25,000 runner-up prize. The teams are Genesis Helmets, Inc. based out of Keystone Heights, Florida, Nix, Inc. out of Boston, Massachusetts and PEEP Performance, LLC from Houston, Texas.

ORC’s tech they are putting before the judges is called Light Lace –– sensors use light to measure muscle fatigue and respiration. This stretchable sensor can be integrated into garments or even helmets, and the information generated can help athletes and training staff better assess injury risk factors and optimize performance.

“It’s fiber-optic technology,” said Ilayda Samilgil, co-founder and CEO of ORC. “We have our own stretchable fibers and we shine light through them. So then by measuring the behavior of the light, we can measure motion respiration and muscle activity for athletes. And these sensors are stretchable, soft and super thin so we can integrate them into garments to make it easier to measure all this stuff for athletes.” 

The idea for this new technology was actually born out of a lab at Cornell University, taught by Rob Shepherd, an associate professor at Cornell University in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the other co-founder of ORC.

“We were making skins that you wrap around robots and they have these fiber optic cables running through them that measure touch,” Shepherd said. He continued, explaining that the cables that they were using, however, were thick and stiff, limiting the robots’ function. “It doesn’t move with the body like we wanted with the robot skin. So we made rubber versions of it and it worked really well and was a very simple, and we believe, scalable solution. And so because of that, we decided to translate it out of the lab.” 

At the same time the lab decided the project would be good for use outside of robots, Samilgil was graduating –– and with that took the helm of the new ORC company and the product development of Light Lace.

ORC believes their technology could go far beyond sportswear and use in the NFL.

“We could give robots the feel of touch. That will be important for health care, could be important for robots in a warehouse,” Samilgil said. “We’ve looked into AI and health care. We looked into using this for diabetes patients to prevent pressure ulcers and using these in car seats to look at vehicle passenger behavior, as well as to tell whether a kid is left behind in the car.”

She continued, saying the technology could also be used for augmented reality for military training and virtual reality games. “If you wear them as gloves, you could be able to tell the force interactions as well as the motion that will improve the training in the virtual environment,” Samilgil said. “And also the same concept applies to the games.”

Tuesday night’s broadcast will also include a panel discussion featuring Roger Goodell, the NFL’s Commissioner, recently retired Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald and Andy JassyCEO of AWS (and, apparently, now the CEO of Amazon after Jeff Bezos stepped down on Tuesday).

The judges for the competition are Demarcus Ware, 9-time Pro Bowl NFL player, Super Bowl champion and founder of Driven To Win and 3VOLT Fitness; Reggie Scott, vice president of Sports Medicine and Performance for the Los Angeles Rams, Gary Vaynerchuk, chairman of VaynerX, CEO of VaynerMedia and co-founder of Resy and Empathy Wines; Allen Sills, M.D., and chief medical officer for the NFL; and Priya Ponnapolli, Ph.D., senior manager and principal scientist for Amazon’s Machine Learning (ML) Solutions Lab.

As a final note Shepherd added, “there’s a very big future for us and we’re glad that we were able to start with being in this competition.”

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com