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CU Boulder Engineering Students Come Up With Way To Keep NBA Players Warm While On The Bench

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)- When the Milwaukee Bucks take the court, they can thank several students from the University of Colorado for the best home court advantage in the NBA.

Professor Jack Zable is a professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and teaches senior design classes at CU. He's been developing new ways to bring sports and modern technology closer together.

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"There are a lot of things you can do where technology can be used to help performance," Zable said.

One of the first projects came from Dr. Tim Flanagan, the Director of Sports Performance for the Bucks. Zable reached out to him for some projects for his students but they had to wait and soon their patience paid off.

"The first year he passed. He said 'Let me get my feet on the ground first.' And then he came out with the plan for the seats and they worked out great," Zable said.

Zable and a group of 10 students designed and built adjustable heated seats designed to keep the Bucks muscles warm when they were on the bench. This was different from the normal folding chairs used around the NBA which caused muscle stiffness. Since the chairs were installed in 2018, Milwaukee has enjoyed a 61-11 home record, the best in the NBA.

"Last year they started the season 8-1 so I said Troy, 'What's happening?' He said 'It's the seats,'" Zable said gleefully.

The seats have worked so well other teams around the NBA have taken notice.

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"The (Toronto) Raptors have just paid the Bucks a fee to use their chairs. So, the Raptors will be using the chairs in the future. My feeling is that five years from now everybody will be using them because it gives an edge to the team," Zable said.

With success comes the spoils of more projects from the Bucks. Last year, the students developed a balancing beam designed to improve ankle strength and prevent ankle injuries.

"Tory is extremely happy with the chairs. Extremely happy with the balance board. That's why he comes back and does it," Zable said.

The latest project is creating a non-electric heating pad which starts up immediately and last for four hours with the touch of a button. This would be an upgrade from the normal heating pad you get from a drug store which last only a fraction of the time and often leaves a mess.

Responsible for creating the new heating pads were Jaeyoung Park, Eric Wilkinson, Ryan Jones, Faisal Alsumairi and Rolando Trujillo, or better known as Team 26.

Before the device is created, the students use their class time to go over the designs for the prototype with Zable overseeing the room. Every minor detail from the materials to the final cost of the device are discussed.

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Once the plan is in place the students begin building the prototype by using a 3-D printer and sauntering the wires to the battery pack in the lab. Before the coronavirus pandemic slowed the progress of the project, the team met with the Dr. Flanagan when the Bucks played the Nuggets in Denver on March 9. It was a chance to show the Dr. Flanagan what they've created so far and also inched the students closer to completing a year-long goal.

"I think we're going to be mostly proud because we delivered the goal that we wanted to reach which is to help the players recover through the injuries. If we did that, it would be the best," Alsumairi said.

But Zable has another reason why he wants his students to do well with the projects.

"I like the students to be successful because it's good for them, but it's also good for us. If we're successful, that company says let's do it again next year."

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