G’day everyone, where ever you are. We are well past the second month of the year and it feels like things are starting to get into some sort of a rhythm. Covid still (obviously) hasn’t disappeared, but at least most of us have gotten the hang of what is required to prevent/reduce the spread – masks and hygiene and staying home when necessary. Also, one year on, there is now more advice on what to do when recovering from or coping with the virus. A couple of things that has been noted is that returning to exercise is a key component of rehabilitation and that some wearable sensors (like heart rate, sweat, temperature or blood oxygen saturation) can be helpful in monitoring the patient’s recovery. This might be an opportunity for wearable device companies to develop consumer-focused solutions to manage covid recovery.
In sports, it looks like the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are still on track to happen as planned. There might not be many live spectators due to travel restrictions but I am sure technology will somehow fill in some of the gaps and allow some level of engagement between athletes and their supporters across the globe. On a related note, Brisbane has become the preferred candidate to host the 2032 Games and if they do get picked, it will be the 3rd Games to be held in Australia. Exciting times for all those involved.
Anyway, in this edition of Top5, there are some really interesting hardware technologies and apps that are taking things to the next level in terms of capabilities, functionalities and applications. There is also one about inclusive sports tech developed to increase sports access. Let’s dive in further.
Noraxon Launched Ultium Motion – A Wearable Motion Capture System
Noraxon has been in the business of developing hardware and software solutions for measuring and analysing human movement for over 30 years. Those solutions include EMG (Electromyography) sensors, video capture technology, pressure/force measurement tools (portable or lab-based), and 3D motion analysis systems. Central to their sensor hardware is a software platform called myoResearch that allows users to consolidate all the different sources of sensor data just mentioned above – EMG, force, pressure, motion, high speed video, and it automatically syncs all the data from the same session so that they can be analysed and reviewed. As the team at Noraxon continues to innovate, one of the areas they have worked on and launched this year is a new 3D Motion Capture system called Ultium Motion. Prior to Ultium Motion, Noraxon had the Clinical IMU and the Research Pro IMU solutions which are suitable for various (as their names imply) clinical and research applications. But there are some limitations to these systems and even other systems in the market, like limited measurement range, magnetic interference and sensor displacement. So the Ultium Motion was developed to address those gaps.
Firstly, from a hardware point of view, the IMUs have much bigger measurement ranges. The accelerometers can measure up to ±200g (where typical IMUs only have ±16g) while the gyroscopes can measure up to ±7000deg/s (compared to the typical range of ±2000deg/s), and at sampling rates of up to 400Hz. This means higher speed movements and impacts can still get tracked (at a higher rate) instead of having the data hit the max/ceiling and flatlining. Next, with magnetic interference which is a common issue in IMU devices with magnetometers, Noraxon has optimised their sensor hardware as well as their software to minimise that impact to users. At the same time, Noraxon managed to improve the battery life (up to 10 hours) whilst making the devices smaller and lighter compared to the Research Pro IMUs. So it is less bulky when worn on an athlete, is less likely to get displaced during motion capture and ruining the consistency of the data. When performing motion capture, users can do a full body capture (using 16 Motion sensors) or there is the flexibility to do a lower body capture (7 sensors) or simply a joint angle measure with 2 sensors. Learn more about Ultium Motion in their webinar here: link or check their promo video below:
SKEO Is The World’s Most Accessible Digital Ski Platform
SKEO is startup that wants to give everyone free access to tracking and coaching during their ski runs simply using their smart phone. Although there are quite a number of skiing apps in the market, SKEO has several key differentiating features besides it being a free app. Firstly, they have developed the Universal Alpine Ranking (UAR). Developed by Bode Miller – a former world cup alpine ski racer (olympic gold medalist and world cup champion), the (proprietary) UAR is an objective way to rank a skier based on their ski patterns which is captured using the smartphone’s built-in sensors. The app creates an initial score based on a user survey, then fines tunes it over the first 5 ski runs. The ranking/score is broken down into five core skills including 1) speed, 2) stamina, 3) body position, 4) turn style, and 5) difficulty. So with those metrics, skiers don’t just get an overall ranking and how they stack up with others but they can see generally where their strengths and weakness are, and try to improve with the feedback provided. Then over time, they can track their progress and even compare or challenge other skiers. The app also provides/suggests quests or challenges based on the skier’s UAR score.
For skiers who want more details of their performance, they can purchase an additional kit of wearable sensors called snowcookies, which has recently been integrated into the SKEO app. The sensor kit consists of 2 ski sensors and a body sensor worn on the same location as a chest heart rate strap. With a sensor on each ski, skiers can capture the exact edge angles of their inside and outside skis, and check if their skiing is symmetrical on their left and right turns. With the sensor on the skier’s chest/torso, it provides detailed angle measurements of a skier’s forward/backward lean, hip angulation, torso rotation, and even determine if a skier is correctly distributing body mass between the inside and outside ski of a turn. All in all, the objective of SKEO with or without the sensors, is to provide skiers with an objective means of monitoring their skill level and have a digital coach to educate them and help them improve should they choose to. Read more about the teaming up of SKEO and Snowcookie here: link, or check out the Snowcookie video below:
Exer Labs Launched Studio – A Computer Vision App For Online Group Workouts
Computer vision apps have been on the rise in the last few years. There are now more sports and fitness apps that tracks athletes and movements using the smart phone camera and the smart phone’s processor or sometimes they could rely on cloud-based processing. We have even covered a number of those apps previously and each of them have a different application or slightly different focus. Exer Labs is a startup that has also developed a smart platform that gives a mobile device (with a camera) the ability to do pose estimation and track human movement. They have built their platform from the ground up with a database of millions of movements from athletes so it is able to track and identify good and bad form during workouts. Their first app that is built using that platform is Perfect Plank. Currently available free on the App store, the app tracks the user’s plank posture using the iPhone’s front facing camera and continually provides feedback and encouragement to ensure good form and motivate users to plank for longer. For Exer, this is like a demo app that showcases their technology and capability and allows the team to test different features and functionalities.
Another product they have recently launched is the Exer Studio. It is quite simply Exer plus Zoom (or another live streaming platform like Google Meet or IG Live). Since the onset of Covid, more people have been working out from home and often relying on a connected/virtual platform to stay motivated and accountable especially if they are part of a group/club/team. A limitation of existing video streaming platforms is that coaches or trainers can’t really keep track of how well each athlete is actually doing their training session or how engaged they are. With Exer Studio, every athlete in the session are tracked from their webcam through the Exer platform and the coach can see the level of output from each person (tracking of 20+ body points) and monitor how engaged they are throughout the session. The metrics of the participants are visible to each other as well which further motivates them to keep up with the rest of the group or stay on top of the leaderboard. At the point of writing this, Exer Studio is in beta and athletes and coaches can reach out to the Exer team to get free access. Learn more about what Exer Labs is doing in this podcast interview with FutrSprt, or check out their promo video below:
Force Hooks Is The Most Versatile Strength Testing Device
Strength testing or assessment is necessary when it comes to evaluating and monitoring high performance athletes. It has been said that without a quantified assessment, coaches (and sports scientists) would be just guessing the progress of an athlete, whether it’s in performance or recovery. These days, there are a good selection of strength testing devices in the market that are designed for testing athletes. There are devices made for doing certain tests and targets a specific area (e.g. hamstring). There are also devices that are designed to be multifunctional/modular and can test a wide range of joints and muscles. These devices are often quite bulky and require a dedicated space in the lab or training facility. They also come at a hefty price. Typically, only clubs and teams at the elite level will have the resources (space and money) to afford those devices. Although there are portable handheld dynamometers that are more affordable and can potentially be adapted for strength tests, they have limited measurement range and repeatability due to the way they can be held/secured.
Force Hooks was developed for coaches, clubs and teams that need an adaptable, secure and reliable means to strength test their athletes without having to set aside a dedicated space for testing equipment while still being affordable. Jason Ager, the founder of Force Hooks, having found no such solutions back in 2018, decided to build it himself. Being an S&C coach, he knew why he wanted to build one but he had to pick up some electronics and programming skills in order to build it. After a couple of years of tinkering, prototyping and testing (with some help along the way), the outcome was the FH01. The FH01 is a portable force sensor that can be mounted onto most standard weight/squat racks. Which means it works with existing equipment, and doesn’t take up extra real-estate in a gym. It can be fitted with various attachments such as a hook/clamp for bars, a flat pad for handheld dynamometry, and an eye bolt for cable attachments. Which makes it highly versatile. The force sensor can measure up to 750kg and at a sampling rate of 1200Hz; it is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled and will work with accompanying mobile apps (which is in development and will be released in the future). In the meantime, it has a display which shows the testing results (peak force, rate of force and impulse) and it allows users to adjust settings and measurement requirements. The FH01s are currently available on Pre-order (closes end Mar 2021) at a discounted rate and shipping is expected to start end of April 2021. Find out more on their website: link or check out this little summary video below which we compiled from their Instagram stories:
Action Audio Is A New Way For The Visually Impaired To Follow Tennis & Potentially Other Sports
There were a few things different in the Australian Open this year. Firstly, Covid caused the event to be pushed back from January to February. Covid also had an impact on the tennis players who travelled to participate in terms of where they stayed and how they could practice. Then there was the snap 5-day lockdown in Melbourne in the middle of it which meant no fans were allowed and the players continued competing in a bubble form with only their direct support staff. Fortunately, things bounced back after the 5 days. Rod Laver Arena reopened to fans at 50% capacity, and the semis and finals were able to be completed with the support of live spectators. On the other hand, there is a group of fans, that regardless of Covid, cannot properly and literally watch the game (or any other sport for that matter) because of their visual impairment. But that doesn’t mean they cannot enjoy the game, they just need someone to tell them what’s going on, to commentate, to add context to the sounds that they are hearing. Typically it would be someone they are watching the game with. The challenge is, not everyone has the skill or patience to commentate while watching sports.
During this Australian Open – Tennis Australia, Monash University and AKQA teamed up to develop Action Audio to give visually impaired fans live contextual coverage of the games. The way that it’s done is truly innovative. Relying on ball and athlete tracking technology from HawkEye, the Action Audio system takes the position data relative to the court, and converts that 3D data into 3D audio. So when someone listens to the Action Audio of a tennis game using headphones (which is recommended), they can tell which side the action is at (left or right), they hear the ball as it moves around the court (being hit or bounced), the speed and trajectory, how close the ball is to the line, and the type of shots the players are playing (forehand or backhand). Here’s an example audio – link. Action Audio was developed with principles of social consideration, using sound cues similar to Blind Tennis, magnifying dramatic moments, and filtering out sounds that distract from the game. It was all possible through collaboration and consultation with the International Blind Tennis Association, Blind Sports & Recreation Victoria and contribution of many sports fans. Going forward, other sports with ball and athlete tracking technology such as football or cricket could potentially be added to Action Audio so that the visually impaired could have access to more sports. Read more about Tennis Australia launching Action Audio here: link or check out their video below:
And that is our top five sports tech news for Feb 2021. If you would like more information about any of the above, or if something sparked an idea and you would like to chat about it, feel free to contact us or leave a comment below. If you enjoy our content, feel free to share it using the links below or subscribe to our blog/newsletter here: link. As always, thanks for reading!