Category Archives: Sports technology

Developing IMU Sensors For Capturing Motion In Sports

IMU sensors are pretty useful because when strapped to the right location and given the right context they can provide very insightful information about an athlete’s (or anyone’s) movements. In this post, we are going to look at a couple of options in the market that allows us to skip the hardware development and jump right into the application development. Feel free to skip to the different sections that interest you:

[ Intro To IMUsmbientlabsNotch SensorNotch Mocap TestCustom Sensors]

Intro To IMUs

In case this is the first time you are hearing about IMU, here’s a brief intro. IMU stands for Inertial Measurement Unit; it is an electronic device that typically has accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers, and it measures its own acceleration, angular rate (or spin rate) and surrounding magnetic field. IMUs are not only used in sports, in fact, it is used in many consumer electronic devices. Our smartphones for one has IMUs for detecting the orientation of the phone and changing the display to portrait or landscape. The IMUs also allows for functions such as undoing texting errors, a spirit level and motion sensor games. If a user carries the phone with them in their pockets most of their waking hours, it can act as a pedometer counting steps and detect when the user is sedentary. For runners who use running apps to track their runs, IMUs enable some apps to track indoor runs and cadence. Sports Engineering Researchers have used smartphones for tracking wheelchair rugby activities and classifying different sporting activities.

As great as the smartphones are with inbuilt IMU, GPS and processing power to give us real-time analysis, we don’t really want to strap an expensive smartphone onto a football player’s calf to monitor their kicking or tape an iPhone to a tennis racket to measure swing metrics. That’s why companies like Qlipp has developed sensors for tennis or Zepp which has sensors for a number of bat-and-ball or swing type sports. Then there are sensors for rowing, running, surfing, mountain biking and more. There are also different sports equipment that has in-built IMU sensors. Like smart balls (basketball, football, cricket ball etc), smart shoes, smart helmets, smart rackets etc, it could go on and on.

But sometimes we might still not find a sensor product on the market that is right for our sports or health application. So we explore the option of developing something on our own. Fortunately, we don’t necessarily have to start from scratch* because these days there are generic IMU sensor platforms that are designed and built for people who want to develop a sensor for a custom application. They often have the standard 9-DOF (degree of freedom) sensor setup and come with software SDK that allows developers to build their own applications for processing and analysing the data. Let’s look at a couple of options below.

[*when I say scratch, I mean getting sensor boards from SparkFun, Adafruit, Seeedstudio, Tindie etc]

mbientlab

mbientlab successfully launched their first Bluetooth IMU sensor on Kickstarter. They pitched it as a development and production platform for wearables with simple API for iOS and Android. There was some simple soldering required when people bought the first product. I didn’t get one from that campaign but I did get a later updated version which they called MetawearRG. What impressed me when I first got it was the size of it – it’s small and compact and I could use it to build/redesign a smart basketball prototype for a client. Then when I started testing it, I found that their API was really easy to use and I could use their sample iOS app to build a custom app for testing within a (reasonably) short time.

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Smart Basketball Prototype and Watch app for tracking optimal shots

Since then, they have made many other versions of sensors with:

  • slightly different sensor configurations,
  • options of coin cell or rechargeable lithium battery,
  • accessories such as cases, clips or wristbands,
  • sensor fusion firmware,
  • cloud services, and
  • hubs to manage multiple sensors.
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Metawear RG with custom 3d printed sleeve/case (L) and Metamotion (R)

I haven’t had the chance to try everything but I have to say, I have had a good experience using their Metawear and Metamotion sensors to build various proof of concepts and I am still using them for a number of projects. The sensor data can be streamed to your smartphone or logged on the device. In terms of API support, on top of iOS and Android, they have added Python, C, C# and Javascript, so developers can build stuff on various platforms.

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Sample/Template Metawear iOS app for testing

Looking at their new website revamp and some recent emails they sent out about new platform developments, they seem to be putting more focus into the allied health space, in particular, measuring range-of-motion (ROM). They are currently beta testing an app called the MetaClinic and it looks like they are using skeleton-tracking the likes of motion capture systems which would probably mean we need to use multiple sensors. That should be interesting.

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MetaClinic App by mbientlab

Notch Sensors

Notch also launched on kickstarter, in fact slightly earlier than mbientlabs’ campaign. They had an interesting concept of integrating individual IMUs into custom designed clothing using pockets in discreet locations. Unfortunately, they weren’t successful at that instance. Their initial use case probably wasn’t strong enough. So I guess the founders went back to the drawing board, revamped it all and went with the “motion capture” approach for developers.

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Notch sensor with elastic band and clip

With the new design, the shape of the IMU sensor is essentially the same but they have ditched the micro-usb in each IMU for contact pins and made it water-resistant (IP67). They also designed elastic bands of varying lengths with a sensor clip and a user can secure each sensor up to 15 different locations on their body including head, chest, upper arms, wrists, hands, waist, thighs, ankles and feet. So instead of selling individual IMUs, they sell a kit of 6 IMUs with a set of elastic bands, and if a user wants to do a full (body) setup, they will need 3 kits.

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The Pioneer Kit: 6 IMUs with charging case and elastic bands with clips.

A quick test and review (for biomechanics)

I had the opportunity to run a short pilot test with one (the pioneer) kit in a biomechanics lab. I used the lower body setup which used all 6 IMUs strapped on my chest, waist, thighs and shins/ankles. In terms of setting up, it was pretty straightforward. After following an initial calibration procedure of all the IMUs in the case, I put on the bands and clipped each IMU to the right location according to the different colours as indicated on the app. The only thing is putting on the bands takes a bit of practice and I had to swing around to check that the bands are not too tight and restricting movement. Even though I don’t have muscly quads, I felt that the bands were somewhat tight and needed adjusting after a while.

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Setting up the Notch IMUs for lower body measurements

For testing, I did a simple protocol of walking, stopping and doing 3 squats of varying depths. Then I compared my knee angles measured on the notch and the motion capture system. A few quick things that I took out of the knee angle measurements were:

  • The angle measured by Notch is the exterior angle while the motion capture system looks at the interior angle. It just needs a quick calculation before comparison.
  • Assuming the motion capture system is the more accurate measurement, Notch had a larger error as squats went deeper.
  • But for walking, the knee angles measured were pretty close.

It’s wasn’t a very elaborate test but even from this simple outcome, I can safely say it’s probably not the best tool for accurate joint angle measurements. Although for a quick 3D visual feedback on movements, it might work. Here’s the clip of me doing the test described above (feel free to rotate the video to get different perspectives):

https://wearnotch.com/e/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJleHAiOjQ2NTUzNTYwMDIsInN1YiI6ImE1MGEyZDE0LTk5NzYtNDIzMC1hMGY0LTIzMmRhNzAwMjk0MDplbWJlZCJ9.eUSMWdC8F5rAq43eYO_QHizt-xdodoMacIOwbQLjupA/

Further to that, I could only download angle data. If I wanted the raw sensor (acceleration and gyro) data, I would need to pay for an extended license that is renewed annually.

In terms of custom development support, they used to have support for iOS but they seem to have taken that off now and only have support for Android which I thought is a bummer. I am guessing they have some issues with getting it right on iOS. Hopefully, it is just temporal and they will resolve it soon. For Android developers, it looks like they have pretty good support and even provides a template app. I have to add that there is a fair bit of fine print I need to agree to before I can get access to their SDK. If I read it right, they basically want a licensing fee for using/commercialising their SDK.

Custom Sensors

Both of the above IMU sensors have similar specifications when it comes to measuring acceleration (using accelerometers) and angular velocity (using gyroscopes). The typical measurement range for accelerometers is +/-16g (that’s 16 times of gravitational acceleration), and for gyroscopes, it’s +/- 2000 degrees per sec. For many applications, this configuration is fine. But there might be some cases where higher acceleration needs to be measured and that goes beyond 16g, like shocks or high impact collisions. Or I might need high-speed rotations to be tracked and 2000 degrees per sec is too low, like measuring the spin of a cricket ball or gridiron football (which can come close to 3600 degrees per sec or 600rpm as demonstrated here by Drew Brees).

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Spin rates of a gridiron football during a throw test

As briefly mentioned earlier, hobby electronics stores like SparkFun, Adafruit, or Tindie would be a good place to start when looking for accelerometers and gyroscopes of different specifications. There are also lots of microcontrollers with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)  built-in that are Arduino compatible so we can program them with the Arduino software. One that I found pretty handy is this one called Blueduino which comes with a Lipo charger add-on (and add-ons are great) and that can be found on Tindie.

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The gridiron football sensor prototype using the Blueduino

Final Word

For those who are in research and possibly need Matlab and software support for building custom Matlab programs, definitely check out Sabel Sense sensors (Australia). Else, I reckon the mbientlab sensors would be a great option for starting a custom development. If I get a chance to trial their Metaclinic platform, I will put up another post. Meanwhile, do drop me a message here if you need assistance or advice in any of the options above and feel free to leave a comment if you think there are better solutions out there. With that, thanks for reading!

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The Kayak Tech Survey Outcome

Almost 6 months ago, I wrote a short post about (what I thought was) a lack of technologies for monitoring training in flatwater or sprint kayaking. To make sure that it wasn’t just me thinking that way, I created a survey and sent it to a couple of kayaking friends who graciously helped spread the word. I also posted a link to the survey on social media (i.e. Twitter) which I think wasn’t quite as effective. Overall, I didn’t get a big response but it still gave me a peek into things. So let’s dive into it and see what it’s telling us.

Key Stats

So here are some key stats as captured by Typeform:

There were a total of 120 visits, of which 101 were unique and out of the 101, there were 37 responses. This means a 36.6% response rate. Among the 37 responses, 14 were done on Laptops, 23 on Smartphones, and none on Tablets.

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Screenshot of Typeform Key stats

Some Details

Then onto the 6 questions:

  • Training frequency per week – 30 out of the 37 responses said they train at least 2 times a week or more.
  • Yes/No to use of technology during training – 30 out of 37 use some form of technology to track their training
  • Regarding the type of technologies they use – 29 use a GPS watch, 19 use a heart rate strap, 8 use a smartphone app, 3 use Motionize, 3 use Vaaka Cadence, 2 use a SmartWatch, and 1 uses a GPS + IMU unit. (note that some people use more than 1 piece of technology)
  • The number who do not use technology – 5 responded that they do not use any technology and the most popular reason is that they have not tried them
  • What they liked about their current technologies – Being able to track Heart Rate (n=18) is the top thing that people liked.  This is followed by Pace (14), Speed (11), Distance (8) and Stroke Rate (4) (or cadence).
  • Regarding improvements they would like to see, everyone had slightly different preferences. But in essence, 9 said they would like a kayaking specific device or app, 6 wanted stroke rate available in their existing devices, 6 wants some form of power monitoring (that is affordable), 4 would like to see stroke/technique analysis, 3 wants greater accuracy and reliability in their tracking, and 2 would like a better visual of their data.

[If you would like to see it on Typeform, here’s an overview of responses to the first 4 questions: link]

Even though I only had 37 responses, there was a good mix of opinions; and I take away 3 key things out of the above data:

  1. The GPS watch is the most commonly used tech. It makes sense because it is a multi-functional device – it can be used for running, riding, swimming or just for everyday use as a watch.
  2. More than half (19) of the people use a heart rate strap and it seems most of them value the heart rate data.
  3. Although there are technologies out there that can be used/adapted, 23 out of the 30 still wants some form of improvement to their devices. The most common feedback is there isn’t a kayak specific device or app.

I reckon most people would have a similar setup as the athlete in his Instagram image below – wearing a heart rate strap and with a GPS watch mounted onto the kayak in front of the cockpit.

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Tom Liebscher’s Instagram photo (link to original  photo)

Additional Info

Also from the few conversations I had with some of the kind people who did the survey, most (if not all) GPS watches don’t track stroke rate, and the accuracy of the speed measurement during short distances/sprints/intervals are not very good.

What I didn’t get a lot of information or feedback about are those kayak specific technologies that are actually in the market like Vaaka Cadence, Motionize and Kayak Power Meter. It seems like not many people have used them. This could be because of the price or a lack of opportunity to try it.  I will be digging a little bit deeper into that.

What next

The main outcome I took out of this little exercise is that my initial hypothesis has its merits, and it’s worth pursuing this further. The few options that I am exploring further going forward are (in that order):

  • Smartphone app (likely iOS)
  • A kayak specific device like a kayak computer
  • Garmin Connect app

As this is really just a side project, the progress might not be as quick. Nevertheless, it will be moving forward and I will be posting updates every 3 months.

If you are reading this for the first time, please do check out the earlier post here, and have a go at the survey here. If you would like to give your input on kayak technologies or even be part of this project, drop me a message here.

With that, thanks for reading!

 

 

New York Marathon here we come…

 

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A nice little good news story from James Lee (SABEL NT) on using technology in the preparation of an athlete for competition. And all for a great cause too!

Full article below and on ABC radio (from 2:06:30)

Territorian hitsNY’s streets for great cause
NT News Tuesday Ma8 8, 2018
In November, Territorian Na­talie Merida will take on the New York Marathon in a bid to raise funds for the Miracle Babies Foundation
After her experience with premature twins, Ms Merida said she decided to take on the marathon as a personal chal­lenge and to acknowledge the foundation for supporting her family. “I am running for family and my miracle four-year-olds “ she said.
“The foundation was a huge support to us during the good and bad days.” Helping her to prepare for the gruelling 42km is exercise and sports science expert Jim Lee. The Charles Darwin University lecturer is currently working on the appli­cation and development of wearable technologies within the sporting, workplace and rehabilitation environments.
“Using new technology in­ vented by my colleague and CDU Adjunct Professor Dr Danny James, I hope to accu­rately prescribe and improve her training program.” he said.
“The SABEL Sense device offers nine channels rather than the two or three of most devices so it will enable us to collect more data and monitor her training more effectively, improving performance feed­ back.” Dr Lee said that working with Ms Merida would also provide an opportunity to gather data and test the tech­nology. “Ultimately it will help all athletes and coaches by de­veloping software that will as­sist in monitoring performance,” he said.

 

 

How Technology Helps Measure Soccer Statistics and Tactics

Over the last 5-6 months, I have had different conversations with people who are working on technologies related to soccer.  And I recall writing about Tactical Analysis in Soccer for SportTechie some years back and thought I will reshare it here plus add a bit of update as some things have changed since then.

What are some of the Football Tactical Analysis Websites?

Squawka is a tactical analysis web application that provides a platform where one can view real-time and post-match statistics of (almost) everything that goes on in a football match. This includes time of possession, number of passes, number of shots, shot accuracy, chances created, tackles (or duels), blocks (or defensive actions), player stats etc. Match analysis data is presented in a field diagram with coloured dots and lines and heat maps. Those statistics can then be filtered by team and player for various types of analysis – whether it’s comparing player performance or looking at shots from one team or overall team events. A useful feature is the timeline scrolling which allows one to look at specific 5 min blocks of match activity.

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Player Performance Comparison

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Shots – where they were taken and where they landed

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Events Heat Maps

The comparison matrix is another interesting tool on the site that looks at stats over an entire season. For example, one can select five different teams in the 2013/2014 season of the Australian League and compare stats that they are interested in. The stats displayed can be filtered by ‘total for the season’, ‘average per game’ or ‘per 90 metrics’. One can also compare teams from different leagues and different seasons.

A special metric of this website is the Squawka Player Performance Score which is calculated using a large amount of data. This player performance score is broken down into “attack”, “defence” and “possession” statistics.

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Comparison Matrix Example

Four Four Two also provides match analysis data on their website in their Stats Zone section. It pretty much provides the same data available in Squawka, except the information is presented in a slightly different way and they don’t have a player performance score. The  Stats Zone allows all the match activities of a player to be viewed together in the Overall-player dashboard, instead of having to select the individual events in the Squawka dashboard. {Update: unfortunately FourFourTwo has discontinued Stats Zone due to limited resources}

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Stats Zone and what their Summary Statistics used to look like

Another site called Outside of the Boot writes commentaries and analysis on selected matches and supports their analysis using statistical data from the above two websites. Other than breaking down the statistics and what was going on in each match, they give reviews on the general style and tactics of a team, player or coach.

Where and how are the data collected?

Regardless of how the data is presented, what’s important is the reliability of the data and where their source is. Interestingly, both sites get their data from Opta, a sports data company that collect, package, analyse and distribute live data. Opta briefly explains on their website that their data collection process is labour intensive with three performance analysts assigned to each match; with one collecting all of the home team actions, one doing the away team and a third analyst checking the data for consistency and adding additional layers of data. They then run a full post-match check within 48 hours to ensure that the database is as accurate as possible.

But what exactly does each analyst do? By using their proprietary software, each Opta analyst puts in the live video feed of a match, then by using hotkeys, every activity that involves the ball is “tagged” – this “tagging” or tracking will record the time each activity started and ended and the X-Y coordinates of the start and end positions. For those who have used video analysis software like SportsCode (now owned by Hudl) or Dartfish, this will sound familiar. But what Opta has done is standardize their activity definition and tracking methods, so every analyst is trained to tag or code the exact same way. This means consistency in the data, allowing every match and every player to be compared using the same standards. The cool thing is, by feeding in historical matches (like all the past world cup matches), they can compare the performance of players from different decades. Check out this video that talks a bit more about what Opta Sports do:

Is there alternative (automated) technologies?

There are a number of athlete tracking technology out there that are either based on wearable technology (Catapult Sports, Tracktics, Polar Team, STATSports & SPT etc) or camera and image processing technology (Stats SportVU and TRACAB). The advantage of wearable sensors is that they can accurately track each athlete’s acceleration and impacts (in three axes) and some even track the players’ heart rate – something that is not possible with any of the current camera or video technology. But data from wearable sensors typically belong to the teams and not shared unless there is an arrangement with broadcasters. With Stats, they claim to not only track real-time 2D (X-Y) positioning data of the ball and the players, but its complex algorithms can also analyse and work out information like speeds, distances, possessions, passings, defence stats and turnovers. So technically, automating tactical analysis to some extent is possible but how much information can be made publicly available is another question.

Some final thoughts

The technology and methods used in Tactical Analysis in football have become more widespread over the years (and its still growing). The statistics that are made available can not only give punters additional information for betting, it can add new dimensions to watching each game. It provides viewers with a better understanding of what the players are actually doing (individually and as a team) and how they have been performing over a season with an unbiased quantified evaluation. For coaches and team managers, it means their decisions (in terms of training, strategising or even talent identification) don’t have to rely too much on gut feel but can be supported with numbers. How much they want to trust those numbers is another thing altogether.

If you know an exceptional app or technology in tactical analysis that is not mentioned here or maybe its still in development, feel free to leave a comment about it, and finally, thanks for reading!


Here are a few other related articles and blogs for those who like geek out a bit more on the topic:

  • Different Game: https://differentgame.wordpress.com/
  • Paper on big data and tactical analysis in elite soccer: link
  • Paper on tactical analysis using pattern recognition: link
  • Paper on a new tactical metric that looks at effective play: link

Customising What Athletes Wear And Use – 3D Scanning And Other Tech

The term bespoke or tailor-made brings to mind an image of a tailor measuring up a customer with a measuring tape so that he can make a suit that fits the customer. Four things typically happen in the whole suit-making process: 1) measuring the customer, 2) picking the preferred materials, 3) making the first fitting and 4) making adjustments based on the first fitting and customer’s feedback. The fourth step might repeat if the subsequent fittings are still not satisfactory. It is a tedious process but the outcome is getting the perfect fit for the customer.

In sports, athletes can have custom made helmets, shoes, protective gear, mouth guards, seats, suits, prosthetics and other adaptive equipment. We are not talking about just having custom aesthetic designs that are unique and represents the athlete. Custom made apparel or equipment that fits a specific athlete’s shape and style can not only improve comfort, protection, their range of movement, aerodynamics and overall performance. Let’s have a look at what technologies or methods are involved in customising them.

3D scanning

3D scanning is able to capture a lot more detailed measurements including curves (down to the millimetres) which standard ‘straight-line’ measurement tools like the measuring tape or vernier callipers are not quite capable of doing. Here are some parts of the body that are 3D scanned in order to be fitted:

  1. The athlete’s head; it can be scanned to create a 3D model, which is then used to design and make a custom fit helmet liner for football players.
  2. The feet are also commonly scanned to produce custom orthotics or high-performance athletic footwear.
  3. The lower body where athletes need to be seated or positioned in a certain way during competition; and it helps with designing custom-fit equipment, enhancing comfort and aerodynamics.  (e.g. slalom kayak seat or racing wheelchair seats or a luge)
  4. Stumps (amputations or limb difference) are scanned to help design better fitting prosthesis.

The more common 3D scanners are hand-held scanners like the Artec3D Eva or Creaform3D. They are typically portable and great for scanning around an object or body part. One of the downsides I find is the person doing the scan needs to have steady hands to maintain continuation/tracking and it takes some practice to get a scan right. There are measuring arm scanners that are basically a robotic arm that moves in multiple axes and has a laser scanner or touch probe at the end.  The user moves the scanner/probe at the end of the arm around the object and translates the coordinates to a 3D model. It helps with the problem of shaky hands but it might take longer for the probe to travel around the object. Terrestrial laser scanners are capable of scanning an entire stadium but might be an overkill to scan a wrist or a hand. There are also laser scanners built specifically for the foot where the foot is placed into the scanner and the scanning is done in just 15 seconds or less. Another increasingly popular 3D scanning method is photogrammetry. It is a good and cheap option that allows ‘scanning’ to be done with just a smartphone camera and the key factor is really the software.

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Kayak Athlete (Jess Fox) being scanned with a Creaform scanner (source: 3D systems)

Moulds

Before 3D scanning, moulds were probably the next best thing to getting the shape of a foot or stump or mouth. In some cases, moulds are still used due to a lack of access to 3D scanning and it is an effective low-cost solution in developing countries. In the case of the mouth guard, getting the mould or impression of the athlete’s teeth and gums is still the best if not the only way to make a custom mouth guard. Athletes can get the impressions themselves using a DIY kit or go to a dental clinic and have the dentist or dental prosthetist ensure that everything is aligned properly. There is also this custom ski boot liner that is designed to be fitted while the user is wearing it and the ski boot liner is injected with polyurethane foam that moulds around the wearer’s feet and solidifies after a short time. If you find it hard to imagine how that works, check out this video about the custom ski boot fitting process that also includes foot scanning and assessment:

3D Motion Capture

Motion capture or MoCap for short is typically used for biomechanical analysis. The typical ‘gold-standard’ MoCap systems are the optical systems. Athletes are (sometimes) made to put on compression garments and have markers placed on the joints that need to be analysed. Then multiple cameras set up around the athletes capture their movement. An example of customisation using Mocap is bike fitting systems. MoCap based bike fitting systems by STT Systems or Retul analyse the athlete’s posture and various biomechanical parameters and recommend an ideal configuration and position. It results in a combination of improved ergonomics as well as performance. Another application that utilises MoCap is golf fitting. The athlete’s golf swing is analysed during the MoCap session and the software breaks down the data and looks at key swing characteristics of the athlete. Then with reference to a huge database of golf swing profiles, a recommendation is generated for the clubs best suited to the athlete’s swings.

Note: There are many other optical (MoCap) systems out there for bike or golf fitting and some of their technology vary and some of them incorporate high-speed cameras. There are also inertial sensing systems and different products will have different levels of accuracy but they all track 3D motion.

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An example of a bike fitting mocap system from Bioracer Motion.

Other Complementary Tech

Sometimes, applying any of the above technologies alone is not enough to complete the customisation process and they are complemented with other measurements or sensing technologies.

Pressure sensing technologies are often used for gait analysis and customising footwear. It gives the podiatrist a better idea of how the athlete walks/runs, where the pressure points are and which parts of the sole require more support. They are also used in golf fitting clinics together with Mocap to provide data on the golfer’s balance and pressure distribution during each swing.

3D printing almost goes hand in hand with 3D scanning and we will find in many links or examples above where 3D printing has been utilised to prototype the equipment and sometimes even used as the final product in competition as seen in this paracyclist’s prosthetic leg.

With customisations that are trying to improve aerodynamics, they usually need to perform wind tunnel tests (or aero tests) or simulations. The results of the wind tunnel tests will provide feedback for further design optimisations such as the cycling helmet. And the team at NTNU has even gone to the extent of 3D printing a model of Chris Froome to test and optimise his time trial suit.

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Luca Oggiano and the Chris Froome 3D replica in the NTNU wind tunnel (source: NTNU)

Final word

We are in a period where customisation of sportswear and equipment is slowly becoming a norm. Other than the improvement of technologies and processes involved in customisation, the mindsets of athletes have also shifted to see the benefits of wearing and using tailor-made equipment. With major shoe companies like Nike, adidas and New balance partnering with technology companies to further explore performance centred customisation, it will be interesting to see how the technologies will progress and what boundaries can be pushed with customisation.

What else do you think could be or should be customised for an athlete? Would you like to explore making something unique or bespoke? Do leave a comment or feel free to reach out. With that thanks for reading!

Kim Blair, ISEA past president hits the spot for sport in Switzerland, May 2018

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Good friend of SABEL and former president of the Internationa Sports Engineering Association Kim Blair is a guest speaker at ThinkSport’s the SPOT in Lausanne, May 2018.

Kim’s unique perspective as the founder of MIT’s sports enterprise and long time sports engineering affectionardo is speaking on the rise of digital information in sport. Jay from think sport and Kim recently had a bit of a chat about it……. (Read the full interview here)

When Winning Is A Drag

We all know the advantages that innovation has brought to athletes in many sports with ways to enhance performance through technology. It has often been about reducing drag, from the skin suits worn by skaters to the dimples on golf balls to the latest in cycling technology.

In the early 2000s, working seriously to improve the aerodynamics of cycling was still a bit of a novelty, remembers Doctor Kim Blair formerly of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has been at the forefront of sports innovation. “Using wind tunnels like the one we have at MIT was not something that everyone did. That changed as more people became aware that a five percent difference in aerodynamics can mean the difference between getting a place on the podium or not.”

A former NASA engineer, Blair first made the connection between technology and sport as a graduate student who was also a passionate triathlete and saw that aerospace design and sporting success had lots in common. Now he serves as an external advisor for the new sports innovation program based in MIT’s department of mechanical engineering.

“Sports organisations might not be the lead developers in new technologies, but they are often the first adapters,” he says. “That’s partly because there are low regulatory hurdles to introducing innovations, if you compare sport with the health sector, for example. And also because people in sports are willing to try new things that might give them an edge.” 

 

The SPOT, a pioneering new event launched by ThinkSport, aims to stimulate progress in sport by bringing together bright minds and fresh innovations inside and outside the industry. The inaugural edition of the annual two-day event will take place from 15 to 16 May 2018 at the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne and will focus on the themes of connected sport, new sports including E-sports, performance & health, and media & marketing. Presented in an untraditional format, The SPOT will provide for an engaging conference and workshop programme, a Marketplace and Demo Zone featuring innovative products and solutions, numerous networking opportunities and an international start-up contest to promote and award new business ideas.

 

Technologies Used To Monitor Training In Sprint Kayaking [Survey]

What is Sprint (or Flatwater) Kayaking

In case you are haven’t heard of the sport, Sprint Kayaking isn’t the most popular sport in the world. In fact, it isn’t a very easy sport to get into. For example, if I am new to the sport, I might need to join a club to get access to the equipment and training programs. Then I would sign up for an introductory course of sorts to learn the basics of kayaking on the water and safety in the water. After I sort out the basics, which is probably done on more stable kayaks, I will try to move into the kayaks designed for sprints. These sprint kayaks will be a lot more tippy but they allow the trained paddler to go on the water really quickly – hence the name sprint kayak. The length of the process from being new to the sport to being able to comfortably paddle on a sprint kayak will vary between individuals but I would say it is between a few months to a year. Then to be really good in the sport will take years of training or 10,000 hours as Malcolm Gladwell popularised in his book Outliers. [There are many debates on the actual number of hours (to become an expert in anything) but the point is: it’s hard work.]

My own brief experience in the sport

Years ago when I was in the sport as a teenager, the only technology we used was the stop-watch that took the time of our 200m/500m/1000m sprints or it was used as a timer for doing interval sessions. Back then, I only competed at the national level and never went further. Work and life commitments took over and I even moved to a different city. Now with a young family, having time to go flatwater kayaking is quite the luxury.

 

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my first kayaking session of 2018

 

Here comes the “tech” bit

But being a sports engineer, I recently revisited the use of technology in sprint kayaking training and was thinking of a couple of ideas of adopting technologies that are available in the market to help with training. I did a bit of research and it seems like most kayaking people use products that were designed for runners or cyclists to track their training. A commonly used product is the running/cycling app Strava. I know a handful of people who secure their Garmin (or other fitness) watches onto their boat and simply start a “run” to track the session. The data then goes onto the Strava platform or any other platform they use.

 

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my “run” on Strava

 

Nelo has a training app that paddlers can use by securing their Android phone onto their kayaks and it uses GPS and the motion sensors on their phone to track their training. The great thing about their app is that it incorporates a Coach’s app that monitors up to 6 different paddlers. There are also a couple of iOS apps on the market that tracks water sports of various kinds including waterspeed app or paddle logger. These ones are a bit more generic.

Then there’s also sensor products specific for paddling sports such as the Vaaka Cadence sensor, the Motionize sensor, and the Kayak Power Meter.

There might be some more that I haven’t come across or they are only used in research labs at the moment. But even with what seems like a good range of training products, I still feel that there is something missing with all these different products. Maybe it is just the sports engineer in me that thinks that way. I am keen to speak to other canoeists/kayakers/paddlers out there who may or may not use technology in their training and get some feedback.

So if you are a canoeist/kayaker/paddler, could you please fill out this survey: link. Your time and input will be much appreciated and will help shape the future of any tech that’s developed! If what I talked about here interests you, leave your email at the end of the survey and I will keep you posted on future developments. Lastly, please also forward this to your fellow canoeist/kayaker/paddler friends. Thank you and thanks for reading!