Cornell startup to compete in NFL innovation competition

As millions of football fans eagerly await this year’s Super Bowl, two Cornellians are huddling up for another competition hosted by the National Football League.

Organic Robotics Corporation, a Cornell startup founded in 2018, will compete in the sixth annual NFL 1st & Future competition, to be televised Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. EST on the NFL Network.

The two-part competition is designed to spur new ideas for athlete safety and performance. Organic Robotics Corporation (ORC) will go head-to-head with three other startups in the “Innovations to Advance Player Health and Safety” category.

“We are excited to showcase the potential of our Light Lace technology and receive feedback from expert judges as well as the audience watching our pitch from their homes,” said Ilayda Samilgil ’19, CEO and co-founder of ORC.

Samilgil, who majored in mechanical engineering and minored in entrepreneurship and innovation at Cornell, co-founded the company with Rob Shepherd, associate professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

The two will appear on the competition from the Cornell Broadcast Studios, where they will pitch their trademarked Light Lace technology to a panel of judges that will include NFL and industry executives, as well as DeMarcus Ware, former Pro Bowl linebacker and Super Bowl champion.

Based on fiber optics, Light Lace sensors can bend, twist and stretch while capturing data related to motion, muscle activity and respiration. The startup has placed an emphasis on athletic performance because the durable sensors can easily be integrated into garments and shoes, according to Shepherd. The technology has been in development at Cornell for several years, with Shepherd and his research team exploring robotic and virtual reality applications, among others.

“We thought that the scalability, comfort and beauty of the sensors would make for excellent human-computer interfaces in my lab,” said Shepherd. “Now we hope for validation from these experts that the NFL’s top athletes would be a good beachhead market for our company.”

Organic Robotics Corporation will be competing for a top prize of $50,000 and bragging rights as one of the champions to be crowned during Super Bowl LV week. They will be competing against Genesis Helmets, Inc. of Keystone Heights, Florida; Nix, Inc. of Boston; and PEEP Performance, LLC, of Houston.

The other category in the competition is “Computer Vision”; five winners have already been determined, and will split $75,000 in prize money.

Syl Kacapyr is public relations and content manager for the College of Engineering.

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Jeff Tyson