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The “Internet of Things” Arrive in Sports (Updated 6/27: Google Glass in Sports?)

June 23, 2012

Technology is bringing a wave of positive change in sports.    Israeli missile tracking technology is now being applied from cameras in the rafters to track NBA players’ every move 25 times a second and then deliver ‘big data’ analytics on every factor that lead to individual performance.  New sensor technology in boxing gloves that allows the measurement of the speed and force of a boxer’s punches and transmit that information instantaneously to TV viewers.  Similarly, new sensor technology in football helmets and chin straps can deliver real time data on the force behind blows to the head and help in on the spot concussion diagnosis.

And wafer-thin fabrics applied to the body or sports padding will produce circuits interconnected with proprietary techniques to help monitor and measure movement, location, and biometrics.  This wearable technology will deliver systems that are flexible, stretchable and permit true three-dimensional conformable devices.  These are only a handful of developments we are tracking with interest… all playing nicely into our Hyperweb or Internet of Things concentration.

Let’s take a closer look…

Web-connected Eye in the Sky Recording Athletes’ Every Move

SportVU and others are using video tracking to capture individual player X/Y position data and ball/puck to provide powerful performance data. Some are calling it Moneyball 2.o.  This eye in the sky collecting millions of pieces of data makes possible:

  • Game match-up Details – Complete lineups, substitutions, ball speed and formations.
  • Complete Game  Statistics – Player and team level statistics for goals, assists, shots on and off target, bookings, fouls, corners and crosses (soccer example).
  • Next Generation Player Cards – In-depth player statistics including speed profiles, accumulated distance, fatigue, fitness graphs and coverage graphs.

Here’s how it works,

SportVU systems hang from the catwalks of 10 NBA arenas, tiny webcams that silently track each player as they shoot, pass, and run across the court, recording each and every move 25 times a second. SportVU can tell you not just Kevin Durant’s shooting average, but his shooting average after dribbling one vs. two times, or his shooting average with a defender three feet away vs. five feet away. SportVU can actually consider both factors at once, plus take into account who passed him the ball, how many minutes he’d been on the court, and how many miles he’d run that game already.

Their system captures the X/Y coordinates of all the players and refs–along with the X/Y/Z (3-D) coordinates of the ball–25 times every second (or 72,000 times a game). Algorithms take into account all sorts of variables to keep the system accurate, from the lines on the court to the reflections of flashing billboards. Another layer of software at a central server puts this raw data together into something meaningful. Information as specific as player ball touches and dribbles can be calculated within 60 seconds of being spotted by SportVU cams. Stats can generate these values in simple, automated reports.

And then there’s a third layer of what’s going on: a layer of deep connections. NBA staffs have access to all their own raw data (think huge spreadsheets), and in an information sharing agreement, they have access to everyone else’s raw data, too. That means every team can mine all of the information collected in 10 courts worth of home games across the NBA. This layer is where the teams get very quiet about what’s really going on. Because if sports are about getting an edge, no one wants to broadcast any edge they’ve discovered.   -read more-

Web-connected Sensors May Just Resurrect Boxing

A recent WSJ piece profiled “HBO’s New Punch-Analysis Gizmo”, stating that it  “Earns Raves in Trials” and asks, “Could It Prevent Blown Decisions?”

The device is shaped like a piece of Bazooka bubble gum. It weighs in at 7.9 grams and belongs to HBO, the heavyweight among boxing broadcasters.

This technology, called PunchForce, is designed to measure the speed and force of a boxer’s punches and transmit that information instantaneously to viewers of HBO broadcasts. But its real potential is far broader: If it works, it could help this struggling sport fix one of its most nagging flaws.

About five years in the making, PunchForce required HBO to confront challenges involving battery life and ringside wireless connectivity. A document that the network filed with the FCC says that data from sensors on boxers’ wrists “is simultaneously stored in a database for use via online applications as well as sent to a broadcast truck to be rendered into graphics for on-air viewing.” The device does not tabulate whether punches were landed or not.

HBO has no doubt about its value to viewers, said its inventor, Jamyn Edis, a research-and-development executive at HBO before leaving this spring. “You just have to look at the blogs (to see that) there is a lot of argument about judging bias and refereeing bias,” said Edis, now a new-media professor at New York University. But “numbers don’t lie, and people having access to that data in real time, that can shine a light on the sport.”

The device isn’t perfectly accurate. Nathan Langholz, a UCLA Ph.D. candidate in statistics, studied PunchForce as a consultant to HBO. His work concluded that the technology had an accuracy rate of 80.5% when it came to force and 86.5% when it came to speed.

Web-connected Sensors in Football Helmets and Chin Straps

Research suggests the average high school football player takes roughly 650 impacts, with a maximum of more than 2,000 per football season. A concussion occurs at roughly 90 to 100 g-force, which equates to smashing your skull against a wall at 20 mph.  Ouch!   Early identification on the sports sideline of suspected concussion is critical because, in most cases, athletes who are immediately removed from contact or collision sports after suffering a concussion or other traumatic brain injury (TBI) will recover without incident fairly quickly (seven to ten days; although a 2012 study2 suggests that full cognitive function may take longer to return for high school student-athletes, especially girls); if they are allowed to keep playing, however, their recovery is likely to take longer, and they are at increased risk of long-term problems (e.g. dementia, depression, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy), and even catastrophic injury or death.

There’s a new breed on web-connected devices already on or about to enter the market to help address this issue.  You can learn more about these technologies by clicking here (a great blog for sports parents, by the way) for a more in-depth coverage on these products.

Shockbox:  One football helmet sensor product slated to come on to the market in fall 2012 is the ShockboxTM wireless impact sensor from Impakt Protective.  Once attached to a player’s helmet (a hockey version is available now, versions for football, lacrosse, and ski and snowboard helmets will be introduced soon) a sensor measures the G-Force of a hit to the helmet from any direction, sending data wirelessly via Bluetooth to a smart phone or laptop computer of an athletic trainer, coach or parent on the sideline and triggering an alert when the athlete suffers a traumatic head impact that may be concussive so they can be removed from the game or practice for evaluation using standard concussion assessment tools.

Impact Indicator:  Another head impact exposure sensor system already on the market is Battle Sports Science’s Impact Indicator,* which uses highly sophisticated technology and proprietary software embedded in football and hockey helmet chinstraps to measure the G-force and duration of hits sustained by an athlete’s Battle Sports Science Impact Indicatorhead during play and flashes red when a force is transmitted to the head that exceeds safe thresholds, alerting game officials and sideline personnel to check an athlete for signs or symptoms of concussion (even if they haven’t observed any signs and/or the athlete hasn’t self-reported experiencing any symptoms). The device will not prevent or detect concussions; it’s simply another set of eyes to assist coaches, parents and players in determining whether further assessment is warranted, Chinstraps are now available for football and hockey helmets, and a version for lacrosse – a sport with high concussion rates – will be in stores soon.

Safebrain Systems:   Another product, this one from Safebrain Systems, Inc. of Canada, captures real-time G-force data from a sophisticated quarter-sized,

battery-powered accelerometer and microprocessor attached with a special double-sided adhesive to an athlete’s helmet. Data is sent to a laptop on the sideline loaded with the Safebrain System software, and an LED indicator light notifies sideline training staff of an athlete who has sustained an impact that could potentially have caused a traumatic head injury. The system is sold as a package with sensors and software for team use only, not individually.

Ridell’s HITS

In addition to its use in research, Riddell’s HITS technology is currently being used by college football programs, including the University of Oklahoma and Virginia Tech, as a tool in identifying athletes who may have sustained blows to the head

that could cause traumatic brain injury. The University of North Carolina uses the system together with video to help improve athletes’ tackling technique to avoid direct blows to the head.  While the system is costly, and thus beyond the reach of most football programs, a lower-cost version for use on the sports sideline at the high school and youth level is in the product research and development pipeline.

Web-connected Wearable Tech

Perhaps the ultimate example of where the Hyperweb/Internet-of-Things is headed is in the NFL.  Late last year the Wall Street Journal published a story on the huge role technology will soon play in the NFL.

According to three top NFL executives, the league has been meeting with technology and communications companies to brainstorm how to bring the league into the 21st century. Every technological advancement you can imagine is on the table.

Coaches selecting plays from tablet computers. Quarterbacks and defensive captains wired to every player on the field and calling plays without a huddle. Digital video on the sidelines so coaches can review plays instantly. Officials carrying hand-held screens for replays. Computer chips embedded in the ball and in the shoulder pads (or mouth guards) that track every move players make and measure their speed, the impact of their hits, even their rate of fatigue.

In the very near future, Anderson said there will likely be tablets on the sidelines that will provide digital video and replace the coaches’ laminated play cards.

The same goes for wirelessly connecting all officials. Anderson would consider putting a computer chip in the ball and a laser on the goal line to replace the time-consuming debates and video reviews of scoring. As long as opponents can’t intercept the communications, he sees no reason why all players and coaches shouldn’t be connected with wireless headsets, eliminating the need for a huddle or the quarterbacks’ wristbands with plays listed in tiny print.

Wearable Technology will undoubtedly play a big role in the execution of the NFL’s vision.  It is astonishing what is coming in the near future via web-connected smart fabrics.  A combination of e-textile, nanotextile and new fabric manufacturing technologies have provided the backdrop to a new generation of wearable technologies that will facilitate: (For more on where wearable tech is headed click here.)

  • Pressure sensitive control panels connected to mobile phones/radios/Mp3 players
  • Photovoltaic printed panels generating energy from sunlight
  • Impact sensing/mapping garment panels
  • GPS & Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices
  • Physiological monitoring devices
  • Chemical/biological material detection sensors
  • Wearable display panels

By no means exhaustive, this is just a small sampling of Internet-of-Things applications applied to sports.  Please share with us any others you come across!

Update 6/27:  Today Google pulled a stunt that is being acknowledged as “the mother of all stunts” as they showed off their Google Glass

technology, a wearable eyeglass-like augmented-reality product that gives the wearer not only a viewing experience but also the means to record their life’s experience.  It inspired  , a Mashable blogger covering the sport/tech space to ask: Could Google Glass Change Pro Sports Forever?

Google co-founder Sergey Brin dropped jaws at the company’s annual developer conference in San Francisco Wednesday morning with an enthralling demonstration of Google Glass, the company’s ultra-intriguing wearable computer project.

In case you missed it, here’s what happened: a team of skydivers logged into to a Google+ Hangout and jumped from a plane then sailed down to the roof of the Moscone Center where Google I/O is being held. Via streaming video, viewers watched the descent from the jumpers’ point of view in real time. As stunt bikers pedaled across the roof then rappelled down the side of the building and entered the conference hall, we saw all that from their eyes too.

It all raised a fascinating question: What about “real” sports? You know, football, basketball, baseball and the like. How could lightweight, POV cameras worn by players transform sports broadcasts? And how could products like Google Glass worn by fans at events revolutionize the spectating experience?

-Read more-  It’s thought provoking.

It just gets better…
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