Category Archives: Dans’ Rants

Every now and again we stray from research into the purvue of opinion and hearsay

Adieu Griffith

schrodingers-cat.jpgAfter 17 years at Griffith University it’s time to hand back my swipe card and explore other opportunities. It’s been tremendous fun developing the sports engineering and technology disciplines (see Griffith’s SABEL research with impact), working with the elite sports industry, related and consumer industries and leading peak professional bodies like the International Sports Engineering Association, The Australian Sports Technologies Network and others. Highlights have been developing commercial products, supporting elite sport, receiving support from the ARC, seeing 20+ students through their doctoral journey and contributing to the ISEA international conference bid for 2018 in Brisbane.
Unfortunately, I looked in Schrodinger ‘ s contract box one too many times and it appears the cat has expired …
I’m looking forward to seeing where the SABEL journey leads and keeping in touch with everyone going forward.
Very best wishes to all for Christmas, the New Year and future endeavours!

Science and Creativity

adrian-diery.jpgOne 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 …


Could you be Australia’s next professor of Sports Engineering?

ucrise-canberraWhile 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?

The University of Canberra have recently opened one (or two) research only positions at Professor or Associate Professor in Sport Engineering/Product Design/Technology. 
Job description, advertisement and University of Canberra research recruitment flyer are attached. The position closes 2 June 2016.





Validate or get it to market ?

fitness-research-logo.jpgAt 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?


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.



The rewards and challenges of a research career

IMG_1849.JPGRecently I received my 15yr long service medal at Griffith University. I am a full time (mostly) researcher who returned to Griffith from the finance sector in the UK some years back. After a stint as a lecturer in the microelectronics engineering department I took up a research role working with the Australian Institute of Sport. It was the beginnings of my sports technology/ wearable technology career (not that we knew what to call it back then). Since that time its been a privilege to work with Australia’s and the worlds elite sporting bodies on a variety of projects often partnering with the neighbouring Queensland Academy of Sport. Its brought some significant research funding to the University, including the ones that “count” like the ARC, the opportunity to publish papers (google tells me my H index is quite respectable now) and patenting a few things along the way too. Helping give birth to the Catapult GPS technology and spining out a few other products and companies along the way too has assembled a nice collection of awards for my linkedin profile too ;). More recently forming SABEL Labs as a research and enterprise entity of the university have all been highlights,  and working with Jaybird on their excellent REIGN sports sensor was a great opportunity to see years of research translate to a mass market consumer product.
Its been a fun ride so far, though riding the uncertainty of over a dozen employment contracts along the way has often made Christmas a time to hope I’ve made Santa’s nice list, with a contract renewal under the tree. Its been helpful somewhat to pivot and think of SABEL as a startup entrepreneurial enterprise, adopt a more consultancy type mindset and approach rather than research lab, and a  bit of study with the Griffith Graduate Business School and Stanford Uni has certainly helped in this regard.
Whats happening in research land
Casting about the traps, surviving of soft money is a familiar story for researchers, with the privilege of tenure beyond the reach of mere mortals. Institutionally while universities are about research excellence, budgets are tied to teaching related activities, with their research budgets at the whim of political forces. Thus most research staff lead a bit of a hand to mouth existence, often ultimately slipping between the cracks of what is a largely tenure driven system.
With the current drop in research funding and changing funding models its a real challenge, especially as universities have been running leaner and leaner in recent years.  The way forward seems to lie in engaging with industry, often overseas based. Though meeting traditional KPI’s of publishing and supervising the next generation of PhD’s (who ‘enjoy’ longer tenure) is then a largely  an uncosted activity which industry is unlikely to see as being valuable to their bottom line.
Our new PM has put science and innovation on the agenda, and while its yet to really translate, heres hoping…
Further reading
Wider reading confirms the challenges are quite widespread.
A terrific review of the state of academia (somewhat dated but still about right)
The Conversation has some great articles on innovation
An article in the Australian on R&D funding model ‘broken’
The “thesis whisperer”, a commentary on research sums it up quite nicely in this open letter to our new PM
Finally heres a story of someone on 18yrs of research funding doing it tough at a G08 university.

Review Purgatory …help!!!



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.

First comes the invitation to review, then comes the reminder of the invitation. After accepting the assignment then comes the instructions, and then comes the automatically generated password to access the review site and if we are a bit slow off the mark then comes the reminder to review, its all happening weekly now. About the time of the reminder email we scurry off to our inbox to find the previous review invitation emails that contained the instructions and password, hoping that the password hasn’t expired or that the email registered to the reviewing engine was an old one.
Its a needle in the haystack of our days jobs emails and the various SPAM that isn’t quite SPAM we enjoy daily from professional bodies (and hopefully) near and far. And here is where the challenge lies…even with the magic of the google algorithm (for those lucky enough to be using a google mail service) or an apple spotlight search its almost impossible to find the correspondence by key word, and the proliferation of Journals with similar names isn’t helping one bit 😦
Another strategy is to look for the sender by name, but with many invitations coming from generic emails, or being handed from associate editor to associate editor thats a tough one too! You see I have this good friend called noreply, he (or she, I’m still not sure) emails me from many domains from all over the world getting things done in that personal (yet impersonal) way thats brings so much joy to my life.
Lately I have just been waiting for the reminder email and then actioning the review on the spot, sometimes I’m (un)lucky enough that the review period has expired and I’m let off the hook, though vaguely unsatisfied with myself.
I’ve been trying to filter my mail as it comes in for reviews and thats helping , but I am yet to find a systematic way to get through the reviews reliably and in time.
Anyways its almost the end of the week I have a sneaking suspicion there are two papers I need to review (fortunately the 3rd one expired) and I better find them by the weeks end….any ideas out there?

Talking to the media

catalyst-sportAs 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!