Mark Rober Just Built a Robot Capable of Kicking the World’s Longest Field Goal

As an inventor and engineer who has formerly worked with NASA and Apple, Mark Rober has the kind of mind that lends itself to coming up with innovative solutions to questions nobody else might think to ask. Questions like: “I wonder if I can build a robot capable of breaking an NFL world record?”

In honor of this weekend’s Super Bowl festivities, Rober did just that, inviting Matt Prater of the Detroit Lions to join him on the field and defend his title as the current record holder of the world’s longest field goal, at 64 yards.

According to Prater, there are two key factors in kicking a long field goal. The first is leg speed, which makes perfect sense. The second factor, Prater explains, is point of impact on the ball: optimally, 2.2 inches from the bottom. Form is also important here; Prater adds that the kick should occur during full extension of the leg. “Right when you’re making contact with the ball, your kicking leg should be locking right on contact,” he says.

Additionally, 40 to 45 degrees is an ideal angle for a kick in terms of achieving maximum distance; anything higher than that will waste energy on height, and anything lower won’t clear the goal.

A year prior, Rober had already built a prototype with the capability to kick a 60-yard field goal, but without the power or accuracy required to beat Prater’s record. The basic mechanism comprised of a hub attached to a free-rotating axel, onto which the kicking leg replica was attached. The front end of the device was fitted with a winch and the back end with a spring, both of which were attached to the axel, meaning when the winch was pulled down, the leg would move back, and the spring would stretch out. A quick-release cord then triggers the rapid kicking motion.

Rober and his team then spent the next year building faster, more precise iterations of the machine, until finally coming up with a fourth generation device, dubbed “Ray Finkle,” which had the power and accuracy they were looking for.

While Prater was able to kick the ball into the net from the extra point location (33 yards from the goal posts), Finkle was able to kick it into the stands using just half power. From there, they moved further and further back across the field, until they reached 65 yards—one yard further than Prater’s own record. Prater clears the goal, setting a new high, but is unable to land a goal from 70 yards.

Enter Finkle. And while still only on 80 percent power, the robot is able to beat Prater.

“Even with a terribly inefficient launch trajectory, we’d settled the question of man vs. machine,” says Rober. Whether it still counts as an official world record when it wasn’t a human being who achieved the goal, however, is a whole other conversation.

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