When video about Monarc's Seeker Robot QB system went viral a few weeks ago I was tickled, especially because it was being used at Iowa. And when I found out that the project was spearheaded by Iowa alums, I had to know more. So I reached out to the good folks at Monarc and Nate Pierotti at Monarc was good enough to provide some great responses.
1) You mentioned in one of your tweets that there are Iowa alums on the Monarc team. Can you talk a little bit more about that? Did you all go to Iowa? Were you there recently?
NATE: We have three Iowa alumni on the team out of five total members. The members that went to Iowa are myself (Engineering 2016), Connor Early (also engineering 2016) and Sawyer Theisen (accounting 2016). Our other two members graduated from Northwestern around 2013.
2) What was the motivation behind the decision to develop the Seeker robotic QB?
NATE: Not being able to practice on my own is a pain point that I felt personally back in high school. In the offseason, there wasn't any way to get extra reps and practice running routes and catching the ball. We used the JUGS machine during practice, but I also noticed how long it took to set up and calibrate it to shoot it to the position that the coaches wanted.
When I got to college, one of my best friends, Riley McCarron, was in the process of working his way up the depth chart and experienced similar pain points. I was intrigued by the idea of a machine that would allow football players to practice independently of anyone else, so I looked into this concept further. Upon looking into it further, I found that JUGS machines were introduced to football in the late 1970's, which got me thinking what else has been the same in football for the last 40 years? I couldn't think of a single thing, which prompted a meeting with Iowa football. After meeting with Ben Hansen, and GA's Tyler and Marty, they loved the idea and that was all we needed to hear to build the system.
3) How long have you been developing this system?
NATE: We've be in development for about two years. It took some time to put the team together and decide which technologies we were going to use to make our system a reality.
4) What made you decide to develop it at Iowa? Was it just the alumni connection or were there additional factors?
NATE: We decided to develop at Iowa given that half of our engineering staff went to Iowa and we were well connected with Iowa football. Iowa football has been very gracious in giving us access to the facility and giving us feedback about what needed to be changed. Our relationship with them played a large factor in us sticking around the Iowa City area.
5) How did the Iowa football staff react when you first discussed the Seeker system with them? How do they feel about it now?
NATE: The Iowa football staff was immediately intrigued about the idea and immediately knew it solved a lot of problems that they faced. In short, they knew it would be huge if we were able to turn the concept into a reality.
We are still in the process of integrating it into practices and working some final kinks out. But their reaction has been very positive. Players love using it, the coaches that have seen it have given us a very positive response. Overall, the program seems very excited.
To be the best, 1 needs to train with the best. Who's going to have the best equipment in the @bigten? @BadgerFootball @OhioStateFB @PennStateFball @UMichFootball @MSU_Football @BoilerFootball @NUFBFamily @HuskerFBNation @RFootball @IlliniFootball @GopherFootball @IndianaFootball pic.twitter.com/PyayPubP1w
— Monarc (@MonarcSport) July 18, 2018
6) How do the players feel about the Seeker?
NATE: The players that know about what we have and what we are doing have been the biggest proponents of the technology. Given that the idea was conceived from past playing experiences, players get excited because it solves problems that they have been dealing with. We've gotten a very positive reaction from every player that we've interacted with. Ultimately for us, our mission is about the players and giving them the tools they need to maximize their potential and achieve their dreams.
7) What's your goal with the Seeker project? What else are you hoping to refine and improve with the current project?
NATE: Monarc's goal is to give players and coaches the tools they need to maximize their potential. We hope that our technology is available to everyone who needs it and our hope is that every program, including high schools, has one.
We are always adding new features to the machine. It's funny because the tweet that went viral is a fraction of what our machine can do and what our goal is as a company. We have many features on the machine to streamline practice, in addition to our robotic routes and robotic drills. For the routes and drills specifically, what isn't shown in the videos is that we can actually throw to different body locations, such as at the player's knees or over the head to practice on the balls that are a receiver finds particularly difficult, or the ball placement can be randomized. In addition, the machine is not just a tool for offensive players, but we are in the process of adding defensive drills as well.
Aside from what the machine can do itself, we will be adding our cloud platform, Monarc Connect, within the coming months. Monarc Connect allows players to view their data from their time spent training on the machine. For example, if an athlete was using the Seeker working on Dig and Out routes, at the end of their practice session, they would be able to view on an app how many routes they ran and all of the pertinent metrics for their routes. Our goal with the platform is to breed competition among athletes and allow coaches to gain insight into the work ethic of their players and provide a means of accountability even in the offseason.
One other note that I would like to make about Monarc: I've seen a lot of posts online claiming that we are trying to replace the quarterback position, and that is not the case. We recognize that nothing can beat developing the chemistry between a receiver and his quarterback, and we are not trying to replace that. We are trying to provide every position group with a training device to improve on their own time without the need of anyone else. In addition, our hope is that quarterbacks' arms may also get a break so they aren't throwing as many balls.
Thanks for the great responses, Nate, and best of luck with the Monarc system as you continue to develop it. It's exciting to see Iowa football on the cutting edge of ways to improve the game. You can follow the progress of Nate and the Monarc crew online at their website and on Twitter at @MonarcSport.