One of the great joys of being a researcher is taking on doctoral candidates. These are our brightest minds of the future who go on a 3yr (or more) journey into the unknown. Armed with years of technical training it’s their opportunity to apply it creatively to further advance knowledge and society. One of the great things is seeing that success carry forward, where ever their careers take them ..
A while back David Rowlands and I were contacted by former PhD student Adrian Diery to borrow some props for a film he was helping out on. It turns out that Adrien is the composer of the soundtrack for the film too. Its called ‘SPACE/TIME’. Well done Adrian!
Here is a link to the preview trailer and a ‘making of’ short doco …
While the University of Adelaide was the first to establish a Sports Engineering degree programme it was RMIT that currently holds the first appointed a professor of Sport Engineering in Australia. In time I earn’t enough brownie points, such that Sports Engineering wasn’t such a giggle in the department up here at Griffith and made Associate Professor ( well the nearest equivalent of Principle research fellow… whatever that means) and established SABEL. So its with some excitement to see another institution recognising the important role engineering plays in sport with the creation of such a position at the university of Canberra. Its sure to be a winner given their close association with the Australian Institute of sport too! Could you be our next professor?
At the most recent wearable technology conference in Melbourne we had speakers from industry and industry all weighing in on the latest developments of wearables. I had as conference chair the at times challenging task of facilitating an emerging debate on wether ‘product’ should be rushed to market, or first scientifically validated and then released to market. Not surprisingly in a rising growth market being first to market is critical for gaining market share so hanging back and validating might not be desirable…unless of course it doesn’t work, which has brought undone a few companies playing in this space in recent times.
After the conference I spent some time with colleague James Lee musing this over and considering the adoption of wearables in the sports science community we published this invited article for the Journal of Fitness research (get the full issue here , its open access). Have a read…what do you think?
THE INCREASING ADOPTION OF CONSUMER GRADE WEARABLES: COMPARING THE APPLES AND ORANGES OF SPORT SCIENCE
Volume 5, Issue 1, April 2015 | JOURNAL OF FITNESS RESEARCH
Daniel James1 and James B. Lee2
The increasing adoption of off the shelf wearable technologies by sports scientists is a real sign of the times. It was not so long ago that the thought of using lab based body mounted sensors was new and even treated with suspicion. Today, specialist products for sports science exist and the use of the underlying sensors has been well validated1 and since that time, have been applied to all manner of sporting applications2,3. Body mounted instruments offer comparable (though sometimes different) method of the quanti cation of human activity. It has opened the way for consideration of the use of body mounted sensors for a variety of purposes and offered an opportunity to study human movement in relatively unconstrained environments4 where considerations such as ecological validity could be removed. Not only outside the lab, but for the rst time the performance environment could itself be assessed. In competitive sport the issue of feedback and unfair advantage had to be considered and today GPS sensors are accepted in many forms of team sports during competitive practice.
This change has been driven in no small part to worldwide trends in electronic industries that make this possible. The well-established trend of
miniaturisation of electronic components, rst proposed by Moore in the 1960’s shows the doubling of complexity every 18 months5. The net effect of this is that devices become proportionally smaller and cheaper. This has led to market place convergence of a range of technologies (of which smart phones are a mash up of many components including computer platform, sensors, video camera and web aware telemetry platform). In turn the market responds with a greater demand for these products as they become increasingly useful and inexpensive in the growing consumer sports technology market6.
It is here that sports science’s traditional approaches to measurement and instrument is itself subject to digital disruption and the Fitbit is a good example of that7. Here we have a consumer product, itself a trickle down by product of the work that has been undertaken in sports science and allied health, that not only have their origins as tools of science creating a market, but also opening up opportunities not possible by these more mature and dedicated products.
Whilst products like the Fitbit and what are used professionally on the surface are measuring the same thing and do so using the same basic sensors, i.e. accelerometers, each product is driven by its different market segment and achieves its goals through different design decisions. Understanding these, leads to making better decisions when choosing what is the best tool for a particular application.
Lab based technologies (ambulatory or xed) have a signi cantly higher cost, both the capital required to purchase and the more hidden cost, that of having a user suitably experienced to use it. Thus they are suited to high accuracy studies of not too many participants. Commercial wearables on the other hand are at least an order of magnitude cheaper to purchase and can be used widely. They represent an opportunity to do larger scale studies of more participants and don’t require a sophisticated operator. These products, driven by the desire for social engagement (consumers like this interaction and are more likely to continue to use and purchase in the future) over data aggregation opportunities across whole communities. Therefore commercially popular devices can possibly be an option for researchers to consider using.
Research quality monitoring platforms, typically use high rate sensors, today in the order of 1000 Hz. In addition they may also have other sensors, modularity and to accommodate for long periods of operation large capacity batteries. All data is collected and stored in raw form with the minimum of ltering, to allow for the most robust of analysis later on8. Fitbits and other commercial wearables need to make substantial compromises to achieve their small form factor and lower cost, so available computational power, sensor sets and batteries all must be substantially smaller. These compromises necessitate much lower sample rates, typically around 10Hz, or interrupt driven footfall events. Raw data is stored in aggregate form, usually in epochs that provide enough accuracy for a user and reduce the required amount to be stored, for example a 1 minute epoch of 10 Hz data is a 600 times reduction in data, but the trade off is resolution and accuracy.
As these consumer products continue to create a market appetite for such technologies, so too the market eventually becomes more sophisticated and the appetite for greater accuracy grows. Coupled with
technology trends we will increasingly see products like the Fitbit grow ever closer to their research quality cousins. Consider this, rather than doing studies of n=20 for statistical signi cant that n=2M is well within the realms of possibility…how exciting.
For now though they each have a role and a place. Understanding both of these in conjunction with either accepting an accuracy compromise, or that accuracy is paramount, for a sports scientist. Therefore, the sports scientist has to not only understand his or her objective, but needs to have considerable knowledge in the technology to be able to make an informed choice. In comparing apples with oranges it is perhaps helpful to see them as a fruit salad for the consumption of the discerning fitness professional.
Its December and its snowing in our inboxes! My colleagues and I are inundated with journal article review requests as editors presumably try to clear their desks of submissions before year end.
As scientists its not uncommon to have a love /hate relationship with media. Often introverted by nature its daunting to be speaking to the masses, but sooner or later many of us end up doing it. Getting science out to the real world is a great outcome for years of effort in the lab and can turn up new research opportunities and enhance existing ones and makes good common room talk too. In the domain of sport and sports technology not only do we need to be current with the science we (and others) are doing but often its helpful to be able to follow most sports on the planet too, as this is the engaging human interest the reporter often wants to throw to as well.
Its also useful to be able to communicate in shorter sound bites, or explain complex science in a nutshell. I was fortunate enough to do an ABC Science Media fellowship which helped a quite a bit in this regard, as well as our lab doing a few stories with their science media department on shows like Catalyst (see the stories here – which we are still not brave enough to watch )
At the end of the day (even though after a full day of filming its only going to be 5min story at best), you never know whats going to be left out or in of the print article, left on the cutting room floor of a TV interview and so you just hope for the best. Add to that our culture of peer review which ensures we are very careful about claims we make (often understating what a reporter will what to over state), try to acknowledge colleagues and the shoulders of the giants we stand on. Probably the greatest fear is of making statements that our scientific peers might haunt us with, either minor facts and qualifications on statement’s or for some good natured ribbing from the slip of the tongue (One of my colleagues headline statements was “I’m not a geek but….”, which he is still trying to live down), yet trying to communicate something meaningful. Now try to process all that under the pressure of spontaneous questions during a live 2min television interview and its not surprising we might come out a bit wooden, be reluctant to express opinion or are otherwise sidetracked.
Along the way we might fall into some common traps like:
- Reverting to yes/no answers, as a proverbial ‘deer in the headlights’ (which the interviewer doesn’t want, because they want conversation)
- Coming across as a flake who has no opinion, or worse some being cagey (something akin to a hostile witness with whom the reporter tries harder)
- Trying to be a media personality rather than ourselves
The latter is a particularly poignant cautionary tale as I read the mornings news today and saw a particularly media savvy politician (Barnaby Joyce) try to play the comedian with comedians. It was over a customs issue with an A list celebrity…it was never going to end well, but was a funny read and A for effort Barnaby!
Barnaby Joyce left red-faced during Depp grilling
For the record, I only ever did one interview in which I was being goaded into humour, I apologised immediately “ sorry I don’t do funny”, which apparently was, go figure!