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Deaf football team debuts 5G-connected augmented reality helmet to call plays


In football - American football is what I mean - communication between the coach and the quarterback is essential, which is why almost all quarterbacks have helmets with an audio receiver so the coach can let them know what play to run. But what about players who are deaf or hard of hearing?


Over the weekend, Gallaudet University partnered with AT&T and tested a potential solution - what's called the 5G helmet. This is a former Gallaudet linebacker, Stefan Anderson, describing via a sign language interpreter the sensation of using the helmet in an AT&T promotional video.


STEFAN ANDERSON: (Through interpreter) When I first put on the helmet and I first saw the play, it felt like the world just instantly lifted off of my shoulders.

MARTIN: So here's how it works. The coach will select a play using a tablet. The device sends the information to the quarterback. The play then appears on a see-through digital screen inside the helmet, then hike.

INSKEEP: Hut, hut, hut. This adds to the American Sign Language that is used at Gallaudet University, which is a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The university's head coach, Chuck Goldstein, says that can pose challenges on the field.

CHUCK GOLDSTEIN: Once I call a play, maybe I want to get my quarterback's attention and I want to change the play or, you know, something I need to talk to him about, and he's not looking at me, you know, we're stuck.

MARTIN: But that was not an issue this weekend. In their game against Hilbert College, Goldstein had no trouble getting his quarterback's attention, and Gallaudet won the game 34 to 20, ending a four-game losing streak.

INSKEEP: All right. Goldstein says this technology could be life changing for players with disabilities.

GOLDSTEIN: Half of our team went to a mainstream hearing school where they were the only deaf or hard-of-hearing kids on the team and not being able to communicate with your coach or having an interpreter sign the plays in for you. And you know, if you're on offense - a lot of our kids didn't get to play offense because, you know, if there's an audible involved, maybe he's a lineman, he's not getting the play. But if this kid at high school or middle school had this technology, they'd be able to show what they got.

INSKEEP: The coach is also realistic about the challenges that players face.

GOLDSTEIN: There will never be a level playing field for us. There's just so much involved in the communication, not just the communication between us, but communication with officials - you know, stopping when the whistle blows. But this technology has definitely put us one step closer to bridging the gap to a level playing field.

MARTIN: Gallaudet was only allowed to use this helmet for one game. So when their quarterback suits up next week, it will be with a regular helmet. But Coach Goldstein says he's not too worried.

GOLDSTEIN: Gallaudet's been playing football for over 140 years. You know, we're going to be OK.

INSKEEP: And they next play Castleton University - the Spartans - this Saturday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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