The Future of Sport: Borussia Dortmund Football Training Robot
Could the future of sport, and in particular football, be radically altered by the inclusion of advanced technology such as the Borussia Dortmund football training robot? In what has since been named 'the footbonaut', Borussia Dortmund became the first team to adopt a football training robot at their Hohenbuschei training facility in Brackel. The German club, who won back-to-back Bundesliga titles between 2010 and 2012, installed the football training robot at an estimated cost of €1m at the end of their final title-winning year after their manager Jurgen Klopp visited the manufacturers of the machine in Berlin.
The 'footbonaut' football training robot was designed by Christian Guttler and is essentially a 14 square-metre cage that surrounds the player who stands on artificial turf inside a painted circle. Around the edge of the cage are eight computer-controlled machines capable of firing footballs towards the player at varying speeds and heights; from 37 to 75 miles per hour and from feet to chest. The training robot can be pre-loaded with 200 footballs and pass them all to the player within an impressively short 10 minute session.
Once the balls are fired towards the player, who will of course be wearing their official Puma Borussia Dortmund training jersey they are given one or two touches before being instructed to pass the ball into one of the 74 square panels that surround them inside the cage. Each panel on the training robot displays a coloured light and plays a sound that will indicate to the player that they must pass the football through this square within a set time. The football training robot is computer-controlled by Borussia Dortmund training staff and all of the player's statistics and figures are automatically calculated and sent to a tablet for analysis.
It is interesting to note however that Borussia Dortmund's success between 2010 and 2012 was before the installation of the football training robot. Having won consecutive Bundesliga titles in these years Dortmund have only managed one DFB Super Cup trophy since. They did of course produce several eye-catching displays in the 2012-13 Champions League where the team eventually lost out in the final to German rivals Bayern Munich. But, it appears that the football training robot does not guarantee success. It could be argued however that the training robot has helped Borussia Dortmund to cultivate some wonderful football talent over the past few seasons. Players such as Mario, Robert Lewandowski, Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa have been sold to top European clubs such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
The current Borussia Dortmund squad also features several stars that are likely to be courted in the 2015 summer transfer window. Mats Hummels, seen to the left in the Borussia Dortmund training kit, has been a long-term target for Manchester United. Also, other players such as ?lkay Gundo?an and Marco Reus are being tipped for big money moves with several top European clubs fighting for their signatures.
Could it be possible that the skill displayed by these players has been improved by using the 'footbonaut'? The football training robot has been labelled by some as revolutionary because of the way in which it helps to improve players passing ability, peripheral vision, accuracy and spatial awareness. However, some sports scientists have criticised the football training robot as it does not accurately recreate a competitive match situation where players rely on visual stimulation rather than sound and must also find space to receive and pass the ball rather than remain stationary.
Despite the revolutionary nature of the football training robot Borussia Dortmund have been distinctly average in this years Bundesliga and spent the first few months of the season at the bottom of the table. A recent run of good results has lifted the club up to 7th place in the league but with just 2 matches left to play it is impossible for them to reach next seasons Champions League. The best Dortmund can now manage is a guaranteed Europa League place if they finish 5th or a Europa League qualifying place if they finish 6th. Perhaps winning next seasons Europa League is their best option of securing a Champions League place for the following year if their Bundesliga form does not improve.
So, the question still remains: Is the football training robot a useful piece of machinery that will improve the standard of European football or simply an expensive gimmick? Since Borussia Dortmund paid €1m for the 'footbonaut' in 2012 the price has risen and the training robot now commands a hefty price tag between €2m and €3.5m depending on the specifications. The only other clubs known to have a football training robot in use are Dortmund's Bundesliga rivals Hoffenheim and Portuguese giants Benfica.
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