Startup Wins NFL Innovation Competition

Ilayda Samilgil and Rob Shepherd, co-founders of Organic Robotics Corporation sit at a demo booth showcasing their Light Lace innovation.

As millions of football fans eagerly await this year’s Super Bowl, two Cornellians have already scored a victory in another competition hosted by the National Football League.

Organic Robotics Corporation, a Cornell startup founded in 2018 and Rev Prototyping Hardware Accelerator alumni team, won the sixth annual NFL 1st & Future competition, which aired Feb. 2 on the NFL Network (watch the full competition).

Light Lace integrated smart garments
Organic Robotics Corporation’s Light Lace integrated smart garments can monitor athletic performance and muscle fatigue.

The two-part competition was designed to spur new ideas for athlete safety and performance. Organic Robotics Corporation (ORC) topped three other startup finalists in the “Innovations to Advance Player Health and Safety” category.

CEO Ilayda Samilgil ’19, 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 appeared on the competition from the Cornell Broadcast Studios, where they pitched 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.”

Shepherd credited the Performance Apparel Design group in the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, led by associate professor Huiju Park and graduate student Jenny Leigh Du Puis, with designing the garment used in the competition.

Organic Robotics Corporation took the top prize of $50,000 and bragging rights as one of the champions to be crowned during Super Bowl LV week. They topped runner-up Genesis Helmets, Inc. of Keystone Heights, Florida, which won the $25,000 second prize; Nix, Inc. of Boston; and GO2 Devices/PEEP Performance, LLC, of Houston.

The other category in the competition was “Computer Vision”; five top finishers split $75,000 in prize money, with the winner taking home $25,000.

This story was originally published in the Cornell Chronicle.