Hallo and welcome to the 3rd edition of our Sports Tech Shoutouts in 2022. In this edition, I found myself falling into a couple of rabbit holes while putting the stories together. One of them was looking into Table Tennis Technologies – how they help players practice by themselves, keep track of their performance and also provide a variety of ways to keep them motivated. After a quick comparison, I reckon the one tech product that would rank at the top would be one from our shoutouts this round – FastPong. Of course, there are also technologies that are mainly for performance tracking or competition tracking. Those usually rely on really expensive top-end cameras and computer vision algorithms. There are also lots of ball robots/machines that play the role of a consistent practice partner. Some of them are pretty basic while a couple of them have some smarts. I might do another post on this whole topic next time.
The other rabbit hole I got myself into was the topic of ‘exoskeletons‘. The motivation behind exoskeletons was to augment the ability of people – giving them more strength and endurance when performing certain tasks like carrying heavier loads and over longer distances. These have applications mainly in military as well as industrial applications. Exoskeletons can also help people with injuries or disabilities stand and walk with better gait or with more ease. The goal is to allow them to activate their muscles and joints, and either help with recovery or assist with natural movements and promote a sense of empowerment. It is exciting to see that there has been a number of developments in this area in the last decade. Though they are still pretty costly right now, it has become much more accessible compared to two decades ago. We talk about one of the products below that is one of the more accessible options in the market.
Then finally, there is an innovation that will change your perspective and your mind about what’s the best way to prevent concussions. It is interesting to see that the change is not on the outside but on the inside. More below.
FastPong – The First Interactive Table Tennis Training System Is Now Shipping Globally
We first shared the story of FastPong two years ago in 2020. In short, FastPong is an interactive Table Tennis training system that allows table tennis players to train by themselves while getting their performance tracked, receiving real-time feedback and having their progress monitored on the FastPong smartphone app. For players that already train with a ball machine/shooter and a net, it is simply adding on the FastPong sensor panels and attaching the ball sensor/detector to their ball machine. The sensor panels (embedded with LEDs) act as targets as well as provide real-time feedback to the player. While the smartphone app that pairs with the hardware system allows the player to select and run the training program that helps them improve.
Validation Of The Product
The patented Table Tennis training device/system was the outcome of an exercise science research that explored the effect of Visual Stimuli Training. They found that Table Tennis Players who participated in the Visual Stimuli Training had a significant improvement in terms of Reaction Time and Performance Accuracy. Early adopters of the system including table tennis coaches have found that it is an amazing tool to teach younger players and it makes it super easy to motivate them and show them how they have progressed in terms of their metrics. The South Korean table tennis head coach (Joo Sae-Hyuk) who has been using the system also thinks that the training programs are challenging and helpful for practising ball (course) control and strategy training.
Progress & Global Launch
So back in 2020, the FastPong team had their Beta units and they were gaining lots of traction in South Korea. At the same time, they were figuring out mass production. Then of course, with the global pandemic, lots of activities around the world were delayed or postponed and that played a big part in FastPong’s plans to launch. Fast forward to 2022, FastPong has finally overcome all the hurdles of production including getting electrical safety certifications for the main global markets and resolving mass production issues. They officially launched on World Table Tennis Day (6th Apr) and until 20 May 2022, they are offering a 20% discount with free worldwide shipping. Find out more about their range of products on their website, or check out their promo video below:
Keeogo Is A Smart Lightweight Dermoskeleton That Helps People Who Are Moderately Impaired Walk Easily
Robotic exoskeletons that provide gait assistance or help people to walk have been in development since the 1960s and back then they have largely remained in military/research institutes and universities. It was not until the early 2000s that gait rehabilitation exoskeletons became available in hospitals and rehab centres. One of those is Lokomat by Hocoma. It is designed primarily for improving overground walking function in a clinical setting. The full system would include dynamic body weight support, support for pelvis rotation, a gait robot with motors in the hip and knee joints, all these over a treadmill and augmented performance feedback. Subsequently, a few other companies produced powered exoskeletons that were more mobile and could assist people going through rehabilitation and some even have a ‘personal’ version so that they can use it in their everyday lives. Some of them include Ekso Bionics, ReWalk, and Indego, with the latter two having personal use versions. The thing is, the personal use exoskeletons are still quite heavy, where the Indego (the lighter between the two) weighs around 13.5kg.
Dermoskeleton – For People With Moderate Impairments
For people with moderate impairments such as osteoarthritis of the knee and the hip, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, stroke, incomplete spinal cord injury (and others), they could benefit from a lighter (or lite) version of an Exoskeleton – the Dermoskeleton. The term is trademarked by B-Temia, the company that created the Keeogo, a lightweight robotic exoskeleton (~6kg). When the Keeogo is worn by a user, sensors that are installed in the hip and knee locations will detect motions initiated by the user, the onboard processor identifies if it is an actual initiation and activates the knee motors to support the completion of that intended motion. It all starts from user initiation. So it is critical that users are able to at least initiate basic movements and require support to complete those movements. In fact a research study found that people with moderate impairments benefit most from Keeogo while people with more severe impairments should rely on overground robotic exoskeletons (mentioned above).
Not too long ago, New Zealand former cricketer Chris Cairns suffered a spinal stroke and became paralysed from the waist down. At one point, he felt sure he would never walk again. But in one of his rehab sessions, he was able to walk with the assistance of the Keeogo Dermoskeleton. And from the same research paper mentioned earlier, they found that a chronic stroke survivor with significant hemiparesis showed much improvement after wearing the Keeogo. Those improvements include performance in the “Stair Climb Test”, the “30 Seconds Chair Stand Test” as well as improvements in their motor control, postural control and movement kinetics. Lastly, check out this video of Jessie Gregory (an ice sledge hockey player) and how the Keeogo helps make a difference to how she performs her daily activities:
The Q-Collar Offers A Different Approach To Brain Protection During Head Impacts
Helmets And Their Limitations
For many years, the only equipment that aims to protect an athlete’s head (and brain) is the helmet. The helmet is the most logical solution in a lot of sports because it can cushion direct impacts to the head, and some helmets even have layers and innovative materials or structures designed to reduce rotational accelerations/decelerations. Based on various studies, rotational forces is the one that’s closely linked to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). But not all helmets are equal and for those who are curious which helmets are better at protecting and reducing concussion risk, check out the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings site. The researchers at Virginia Tech have been testing and rating all the popular helmets in the market since 2011 using their standardised evaluation system. The thing is, there is still a limitation to the best helmets out there – they still cannot stop the brain from moving inside the skull when an athlete is hit hard enough.
Let’s not forget other team sports or contact sports where athletes do not wear helmets but still experience collisions during the game. Think Football (Soccer), Rugby, Australian Rules Football , Field Hockey etc. Athletes in these sports also run the risk of head impacts and concussions but they don’t typically wear any external protection on their heads. So what options do they have?
The Q-Collar Approach
The team at Q-Collar took a very different approach to the concussion problem. Their initial lab research with rats found that internal jugular vein compression slightly increased the blood volume in the skull, reducing brain movement and it reduced torn fibers in the brain by over 80%. After further research, they looked into developing an externally worn neck collar that could provide that jugular vein compression for an athlete. Later on, in one of the studies using the neck collar, researchers have found that athletes who wore the neck collar had better protection (or less alterations in brain function and structure) against sub-concussive impacts. This and a number of other studies over the last 6 years have all found evidence of the neck collar’s efficacy in reducing the effects of impacts.
The Q-Collar is designed to fit snugly on the athlete’s neck to provide the compressive effect. So they made a neck measurement guide and a fitting guide to ensure that athletes get just the right size and know how to put it on properly. In Feb 2021, Q-Collar was approved by the FDA as a Class 2 medical device. Getting this regulatory approval is a huge step because it means they clearly have enough evidence and that they will also be continually monitoring the performance and effectiveness of their product. More importantly, for athletes, regardless of whether they are in a sport that requires a helmet or not, they can have an effective way to protect their brain. Lastly, have a look at their video below that talks about the story behind Q-Collar.
And that is our third edition of shoutouts for 2022. If you would like more information about any of the above, or you have some sports tech ideas you would like to chat to someone about , feel free to reach out or leave a comment below. If you enjoy our content, please do share it on the socials using the links below and make sure to subscribe to our blog here: link. As always, thanks for reading!