Rugby is no sport for old men. In addition to torn ears and broken bones, players risk spinal damage when in the scrum, which is why this six-legged rugby-bot teaches the French National Rugby Team how to move the pile in unison without breaking their individual necks.
Rugby's most well-known play, the scrum, occurs in order to restart action after the refs blow a play dead following a minor infraction or unplayable ball. The eight forwards from each team lock arms together in two rows and engage the similarly formationed opposing players.
The ball is then placed in between the two groups, upon which they kick it to their waiting teammates in the rear while driving the opposing team off the ball. But repeatedly ramming your head and shoulders into an opposing wall of humanity tends to wreak havoc on your spine, especially if you aren't working in unison with the rest of your line. But that's where the Thales Scrum Simulator comes in.
This six-legged, hex-axis training device developed by the Thales Group and acts as both an training opponent and safety monitor. Players line up in their conventional scrum formation then engage the machine via a shoulder pad-equipped beam. The beam not only recreates scrum conditions accurately — moving vertically, horizontally and rotating in opposition to the humans — it also measures the force generated by individual players through sensors installed in the pads and reacts in real time.
"The scrum members need to make the formation move as a single man," says Serge Couvet, project engineer at Thales. As such, if one member isn't exerting an equal amount of force as the rest of the line, the entire scrum can destabilise, potentially resulting in injury.
"The simulator is a real revolution," says Dr Julien Piscione, senior research consultant in biomechanics and head of the FFR's science division. "The secret behind this innovation lies in its ability to generate proprioceptive inputs. These allow players to decide how to move and push against the simulator, which reacts accordingly."
The simulator has been a permanent part of the French national rugby training centre outside of Paris since June 2010. It should be noted that almost immediately following the installation of the simulator, the French national team reached the Six Nation finals for just the third time in the country's history in 2011, where they received a kiwi-flavoured beat down at the hands of the New Zealand All Blacks.