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This could (someday) be a safer, more efficient future of weightlifting

The problems with people lifting weights are the weights and the people. Lifting heavy weights can be a dangerous exercise, which requires a person to serve as a spotter. And when someone is spotting a weightlifter, it means they're not lifting weights themselves.

A group of students has found a way around that.

Commissioned by the Rice football team to create a weightlifting system that would allow its players to safely lift weights without a spotter, five engineering students -- including linebacker Joe Ballard -- created what they're calling a "Smart Bell."

Connected to a series of wires, the Smart Bell is a dumbbell that remains suspended in the air when the user lets go of the weight. With the capability of holding up to 200 pounds, the Smart Bell allows for players to complete a number of exercises safely without a spotter.

"You don’t need a whole bunch of these for a gym, just one or two,” team member Luke Daniels said. "Rice athletes often have crazy schedules, with courses and meetings and labs, and when you need to go work out outside of practice, you might not have anyone with you at that time."

Added Michael Groth: "If you can’t complete an exercise, there’s a lot of potential for injury. They wanted a device that could safely protect exercisers while still allowing for free range of motion, so they get the benefit of using stabilizer muscles that dumbbells give and resistance machines do not."

While we're a long, long way from having three of these in every weight room in the country -- if that even happens at all -- I'm sure the strength coaches in our midst don't have to squint too hard to see how they'd use this.