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Fighting Irish Battle on the Robotic Field

Before the Fighting Irish battle it out against USC, ABC 57 is introducing you to another football team ... that's a little more mechanical in its movements — the robotic football team.

“My dad’s favorite thing to say is to tell people that his daughter is a lineman on the Notre Dame football team," said Alex Buch, vice president of operations for the Notre Dame robotic football team.

“Basically from the ground up, building these robots that you’re trying to get to perform human functions. So, you’re trying to build a robot that can throw a football, that can catch a football, that can run with it," said the coach for the team, Brendan Haggerty.

Unfortunately, this innovative team was born out of tragedy, when soon-to-be Notre Dame sophomore engineering student, Brian Hederman, was killed in a car crash in July 1995.

“I was going through Brian’s stuff ... and I came across this sketch of a robot football player, and it just registered in some level deeper than most of what I was looking at ... and I started to think about why not make robots play American football? And Notre Dame’s a natural place to invite anyone to do that, and … It could create a way to make a more meaningful memorial to Brian,” said Brian's dad, William Hederman.

He said the students are the ones who took the ball and ran with it.

“If you’re looking at it from the very beginning of the process, it all starts with the design and the idea, identifying what the robot needs to do and how it should be done ... We fabricate all the pieces ourselves," said the president, Zoe Dingeman.

“It gives you an application for what you’re learning, so you’re not sitting in class going why am I ever going to need to know this. You’re sitting in class going, oh I need this for the quarterback! I should pay attention," said Buch.

“I think people who don’t know anything about robotic football will be surprised at how much it’s like regular football...The players look different, but the plays are the same, the formations are the same," said Haggerty.

“I’m really passionate about robotics. I love doing this. It’s not work for me," said Dingeman.

“I’ve never been much of a player myself, but this makes it, this is great, it evens the playing field a lot," said Buch.

“I think it’s really cool to be on the front edge of something that could become really big," said Haggerty.

It's a big idea that started with a small sketch that will forever program its creator's memory into the team's software.

“It’s kind of how I have time with my missing son, and he was the kind of guy who would get a kick out of it," said Hederman.

“I hope we’re bringing honor to it you know?” said Buch.

So far, the sport has expanded to Ohio Northern University, Purdue, Valparaiso University, and Navy is building its own team.

The goal is to eventually take the sport to the national stage.

— Jess Arnold, ABC 57

Published originally:
ABC57 (Oct. 21, 2017)