Sensors in sports

How sensors are positively transforming the world of sports

Sensors in sports are conquering the world by storm. They do not only provide useful information for athletes, but are also instrumental in areas such as health, fan engagement, analytics, venues, media, textiles and wearables.

Sensors are taking our lives by storm

Grip, stroke, impact, temperature, motion, acceleration, posture, touch, humidity, heart rate, altitude. What do all these have in common you may wonder. Well, you can measure them! You can measure them with the help of sensors! Sensors and microchips are taking our lives by storm and they are definitely here to stay! Why? Because they make our life a hell of a lot easier.  Think for example of smoke detectors, temperature meters, infra red sensors, light sensors etc etc. You won’t want to do without them do you?

What is a sensor?

But what is a sensor? The best definition is probably “ a device that detects and responds to some type of input from the physical environment.” These specific inputs could be light, heat, motion, moisture, pressure, or any one of a great number of other environmental phenomena. It’s nothing more than translating some kind of sensory input into a signal suitable for processing into data!

Not surprisingly, sports is and will be at the forefront of many new applications related to sensors. Clearly most of us are well aware of wearables such as the Fitbits, Garmins, Nike and Apple watches of this world. These devices measure where we are, what our heart rate is, our speed and much much more. The related data provide useful information to improve ourselves in a healthy way. But it is just the beginning. Sensors can and are already integrated in items such as headbands, golfclubs, wristbands, necklaces, textiles, belts etc and many more applications will be introduced in the future.

Making the difference

Let’s dig in a little deeper. Think of it! An athlete wants to perform to the max and needs all his or her senses to realise this. It’s all about that extra one percent that can make the difference and he will use anything to realise this. If in some way, he can improve his senses by measurement, he will hugely benefit sooner rather than later. It can just be the difference between a medal and no medal.

In this perspective sport can also lead the way for alternative uses of sensors in our society. Information about body functions during heavy physical exercise gives an athlete useful medical information on where and when he can perform best. Undoubtedly such information will give scientists useful input which you and I can use in our daily lifes.

Muti bln market

In sports the sensor market is already a multi billion dollar industry which will become even bigger. Sensors are the future and athletes cannot do without them if they want to become better.

The athlete will be and is already playing a pivotal role in the further development of the sensor market. The fact is that many different industries depend on him or more specifically on the data he generates. What to think of the media, the data analysis industry, the textile-, fan engagement industry etc. All of these inustries generate big bucks from those data. No doubt, the (brand)value of the athlete will increase big time given this dependence. Let’s look at this a little closer.

The generator…..

As said the athlete is in the middle here. He is the generator of data. With the output and analysis of the data, he hopes to improve himself and realise peak performance. Of course it’s a win win here, because he is not the only beneficiary as I stated before. The industry will benefit as much and should pay him accordingly.

The carriers…..

There are different ways to generate data, either directly or indirectly. The direct way is to put sensors on the athlete’s skin or even in his body. Mind you, there are already people walking around with implanted sensors. Alternatively, the indirect way makes use of smart textiles (shorts, shirts, shoes), wearables (watches, necklaces, wristbands) and equipment (sensors in golfclubs, balls, baseball bats etc.). I consider these as data carriers or transmitters. Let’s look at some examples here which are to say the least interesting

The textile and wearable industry

Textiles become increasingly smart as they carry all kind of different sensors. It is a matter of time before you and I will wear these textiles and use it in day to day life. Smart clothing? Huhh?! Well think of shirts that analyse and give feedback on your sweat during your performance. This way you can prevent dehydration for example.

But there is much more! Of course we know the heartrate and breathing wearables but soon these will be integrated in textiles or shoes. The same counts for sensors giving you info on your speed, distance, strain, temperature, posture, body movement and technique assessment. These will not only provide extremely useful data for training but also for healthpurposes in your daily life.

The sports equipment industry

Increasingly the sports equipment industry is integrating sensors to its products in order to add value. For example, for a baseball player it is extremely useful to know how hard he can smash a baseball and what speed he can generate. A sensor in a baseball bet can measure this. This way the player can improve his hitting skills. The same counts for golfequipment. Cobra is already bringing golfclubs with integrated sensors and software on the market.

The opportunities are endless. Sensors can be integrated in nearly anything. Think of sensors in helmets which can measure hits (gives data on potential concussions), golfballs (smashfactor, rotation, flight etc), balls in general (measuring speed and impact), starting blocks in athletics or swimming, skis,vests, racing saddles, boats, race cars. Think of it and you can fantasize yourself! All these applications may give incredibly useful info to the person using it.

The receivers….

The last group involved are the receivers of the data, the ones that use the data to create a product of it. Of course there is overlap with the textiles/wearables and sports equipment producers, which often offer software with their products, which analyse the data. However, there will also be several industries that use the data for their own purposes. Below we will give several examples of useful content generated from data of the athlete. Watch the diferent Youtube videos in this post to get a feel of what is and what will be possible.

Health

If there is one important area where sports can lead the way and make a difference, it is health. Remember the AC Milan Lab at the beginning of this millenium? It aimed on extending the careers of its soccerplayers and on improving them. This was done by gathering tonnes of information on each player. This way injuries could be foreseen and prevented. It went as far as collecting data on whether the player had have sex or not and what the impact was. Milan was hugely successful with this. Nowadays many clubs and institutions are tracking their players and athletes by analysing the data generated by sensors.

Athletes require a lot of their bodies and try to optimize their performances. Health is a prerequisite to realise this peak performance. Not surprisingly, there are many sensors that can measure body functions and biomechanics whether it is heart rate , breathing, lung capacity and perspiration or the movement of muscles and joints. This information provides extremely useful data to the athlete.

Also interesting to read: 6 ways how sports benefits from motion capture

Not only for athletes…..

However, you and I will benefit as much as scientists will obtain more info on what is possible and what is not. Similar to formula 1 being an incubator for new technology used in cars, athletes may be instrumental in finding solutions for health issues. This should reduce costs for society in the longer term.

Take for example the company ImeasureU. It provides a platform that quantifies body movement and workload. The Philadelphia 76ers use this platform to track the load of every step players take, from the time they are injured to their return to play. The Raptors experienced the highest number of injuries in 2012. After the introduction of sensors this number was turned around to the team with the least injuries! I am sure you can imagine the vast potential of opportunities related to health.

The venue

Sensors are also entering the venue big time. What to think of monitoring the turf via underground sensors. The Amsterdam Arena is already doing this. Stadiums are becoming ever more expensive (see also my blog article The top 10 features of future stadiums) because of all technology involved. Motion and sound sensors may be connected to light in order to reflect the mood of the crowd and crowd noise.

But there is much more. A wireless sensor network can monitor sound, pressure and temperature. This paves the way for a mcomfortable environment. Moreover smoke and fire can be detected and energy reduced. Last but not least, an optimal environment should be created for the athlete. We all know hawkeye in tennis, but also football has introduced goalline technology. What to think of electronic fencing in the future, so that your golfball cannot go out of bounds. The possibilities are endless.

Analytics and sports info

This youtube video from Kinexon says it all. Virtually everything can be measured and analyzed with sensors. This is how the future of sports will evolve and how athletes and players will become better, fans more engaged and media delivering a better product.

Fan engagement

Sensors should be increasingly used for the engagement of fans. For instance, there are jerseys which let you receive haptic vibrations in order to feel the excitement of every highlight in the game. It is already there! Wearablex has come up with Jersey X. But more is coming.

Alert Shirt – Pendlebury from Wearable X on Vimeo.

The same company is having the Alert Shirt where fans can feel what the player experiences during a game. Auch! Imagine you have the same sensation which a player has when he gets hit or tackled or taking a penalty shot in front of 40,000 people. You will feel it as it happens. This should bring you definitely a lot closer to your favorite player or athlete I can imagine. Immersion levels no doubt will be higher. It is a bit like your steering wheel termbling in a race sim game.

In the future expect sensors with little cameras which give you the live experience of af how a player experiences the game. See also my blog on fan engagement in the future.

Media

More and more you see it being displayed on tv! Heartrates from top athletes , speed of cyclists etc. Don’t you love to see the tracking of your golf ball being displayed on your TV set or laptops? Similarly, sailors want to see which is the leading yacht. This is just the beginning. Player statistics and info will become far more important in the future as it will enhance the experience of the viewer.

Expect info on speed of the ball, smashfactors, hitrates, spinrates, heatmaps, biometrics etc. Live real time analysis backed up by data! Viewers don’t want anything less. Tracked data can be displayed on social media channels to bring users closer to the game than ever before. Can you see envisage the future? I am sure you can!

Training

Training is the last field I want to discuss. Sensors are and will become increasingly important. Posture, biometrics, heart rate etc, etc. Measuring is knowing and athletes and trainers will make use of it to improve. Me and you also will benefit. Watch the movie below. Smart yoga clothing tell you wether your posture is right or not. Expect similar smart clothing in other sports like golf. Sensors may measure your posture, arm and bodymovement live as it happens!

I hope I have given you a little insight in what sensors will do to the future of sports. I realise there is much more to tell and I just scratched the surface. No doubt, you have remarks or your own views. I would love to hear them. Last but not least, enjoy your sport!

Published by Jan Kees Mons

I am Jan Kees Mons. Just call me JK, that’s easier I guess. I am a Dutchman living in the heart of the city of Amsterdam. Right now I am living on my own. However, not for much longer, as I plan to live together with my lovely girlfriend.