UI grads invent first autonomous training device for football receivers

An idea that began at the University of Iowa by students has come full circle. The Seeker, developed and engineered by UI grads, is being backed and used by the Iowa Hawkeyes football team.

Kinsey Phipps, News Reporter

Nate Pierotti was a third-year engineering student at the University of Iowa when he told friends Connor Early and Sawyer Theisen about an idea to revolutionize the sport of football around the country. At that time, Pierotti said, the Seeker was born.

The Seeker is a robot that throws footballs to receivers autonomously. The machine allows players to practice independently and allows coaches to track work ethic by getting data on what time of day the player practiced, how the number of repetitions, and how quickly they were completed.

“We did research to find out if something like this has been done before,” Pierotti said. “The closest machine being used is 45 years old with a patent that expired over 20 years ago. There is so much room for improvement. We moved forward knowing there was a large gap in technology and realizing we could fill that gap.”

Pierotti and Early met in a UI engineering course. Lab partners became business partners when Pierotti shared his vision of the Seeker.

“If I hadn’t been at the UI, I wouldn’t have met Nate or been part of this company,” Early said. “There were a lot of projects we worked on in school that helped us communicate and work together.”

From there, Pierotti reached out to Ben Hansen, assistant director of football operations for the Hawkeyes. Hansen hooked up Pierotti with the rest of the coaching staff to pitch the idea.

The Hawkeye coaches were more than pleased, Pierotti said, and he was assured that if and when the product came to life, Iowa football would back it up.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the UI football staff,” Theisen said. “They’ve been invaluable to our progress. On top of their support, they are some of our biggest proponents.”

The company behind the Seeker, Monarc, solidified upon Pierotti’s and Early’s graduation in 2016. Pierotti took over as CEO, and Early became the software engineer. Two Northwestern graduates, Igor Karlicic and Bhargav Maganti, are co-founders and mechanical engineers for Monarc. A little over a year ago, Theisen joined the team as director of sales and marketing.

Production for the Seeker finished last fall. Now, the team is working on getting the word out to other programs around the country, Pierotti said.

Monarc is going to different football programs to demonstrate the Seeker in action, Theisen said, because many coaches believe it’s simply too good to be true.

Iowa football continues to support Monarc. It has opened facilities, coaches, and players to aid testing and developing the Seeker, Pierotti said. Now that the product is complete, the Hawkeyes are eager to put the product to use and spread the word about the company, he said.

“We owe a lot to Iowa football,” Pierotti said. “We have met friends in the program that I think we will have forever. It’s not that they just want their team to be successful, but they want to see us succeed as well.”

In the future, Monarc hopes to extend past the football world to create machines for numerous sports. Allowing individuals to grow and coaches to truly know their players is the long-term goal, Pierotti said.

“Our team works very well together,” he said. “We don’t have any current plans to expand, but we know that it would be great to have an additional engineer or salesman. Right now, we are just trying to stay focused and take that first step in getting [the Seeker] out there.”