Technology, basketball merge in ‘Project Lammers’

Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers jumps on a treadmill equipped with a force plate last fall at the school's Comparative Neuromechanics Laboratory.

Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers jumps on a treadmill equipped with a force plate last fall at the school's Comparative Neuromechanics Laboratory.

In his endeavor to shape Georgia Tech basketball players into their strongest, most explosive and best conditioned selves, Dan Taylor has sought to profit from his colleagues who conduct groundbreaking research in science and technology.

“A lot of schools don’t have the ability to say, ‘Well, let’s just go to the biomechanics lab,’” said Taylor, the Yellow Jackets’ strength-and-conditioning coach for men’s basketball.

That’s why last fall, Taylor did in fact venture over to said lab, known formally as the Comparative Neuromechanics Laboratory. At the same time, when he was hired by coach Josh Pastner in May 2016, among Taylor’s inherited charges was an ideal guinea pig.

Center Ben Lammers is finishing his Tech career, a reality that Taylor laments not only for the productive play that Lammers has given the Jackets but also because, as a mechanical engineering major, Lammers is fluent in the language of Tech and tech.

Not only is Lammers a star who logs a lot of playing time, providing more opportunity for data collection, but “it’s within his ability to sort of comprehend the far-reaching parts of it,” Taylor said. “It’s easier than someone who’s a freshman or doesn’t play as much or just doesn’t think of things that way.”

Lammers was Taylor’s research subject last fall on the visit to the lab, when Lammers had his gait and jumping mechanics measured with the assistance of a motion-capture suit and a treadmill that measures force.

Young-Hui Chang, a professor in Tech’s school of biological sciences who founded the lab in 2004, also ran Lammers through a gaze-tracking test. Chang is in the preliminary stages of research into intuitive physics – the idea that people (and animals) have an innate ability to predict the physical actions of the world around them.

Chang’s idea is that expert athletes have a keener understanding of, for instance, where a baseball hit into the outfield will land. As things would have it, Chang’s test, in its preliminary stages, had to do with tracking a basketball.

“While we had Ben in there, we thought we’d collect some data,” Chang said.

That was not Lammers’ first foray into a Tech laboratory. Since last summer, he has been assisting with research at the school’s Non-Destructive Evaluation Laboratory, helping test the integrity of materials through the use of ultrasonic waves and lasers. It was his first time being the one measured, however, as he was strapped into glasses outfitted with a camera that tracked his eye motion.

“It was a little creepy at first, but it was fun,” Lammers said. “I like doing all that kind of experimental stuff.”

Taylor has continued what he calls “Project Lammers” into the season. For practice and games, Taylor has Lammers and point guard Jose Alvarado wear $350 compression shorts tricked out with sensors that track the exertion of the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. Tech players also wear heart-rate monitors/accelerometers during practice.

“There’s a lot of technology that’s going on in all of these sports that a lot of people don’t know exists or don’t even think about,” Lammers said. “It’s just kind of interesting, especially engineer-wise.”

Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers at the school's Comparative Neuromechanics Laboratory, where he had his gait and jumping mechanics diagnosed. Prior to the test, Lammers was measured, but the lab's scale was not equipped to mark his 6-foot-10 height.

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Among the findings both from the diagnostic test in the lab and the nerd shorts – Lammers is rather asymmetrical in strength and in joint usage, which may stem from a dislocation of his knee cap in high school.

“It’s one thing to kind of know something, but then when you actually take the numbers, it’s like, Oh, that’s not good,” Lammers said.

Chang said Lammers’ visit was the first by a Tech varsity athlete. Taylor hopes to continue a relationship with Chang’s lab to test more team members, doing so earlier in their careers so he’ll have time to develop programs to address inefficiencies.

Chang said he sees “great opportunity” for a mutually beneficial collaboration. He noted, as an example, that he has done research with amputees. Understanding how the reigning ACC defensive player of the year and his teammates locomote can provide a clearer picture of the spectrum of human movement.

“The nature of what I do really has to do with looking at extremes in behavior, whether it’s a health disorder or disability or extreme elite performance,” he said.

It is undoubtedly music to the ears of athletic director Todd Stansbury, who has sought to increase Tech’s appeal to recruits by selling the institute’s innovative bent.

And for Lammers, there’s some benefit, too. A mechanical engineer who competes in the top basketball conference in the country wearing Bluetooth-compatible shorts is bound to have a distinctive perspective on the sports technology market.

“Who knows? In 10 years I’ll have a multi-million (dollar) company,” Lammers said with a laugh.