The Rise of Sports Technology
There was a time when technology meant computers, laser printers, and photocopiers; then along came smartphones, and a whole new world of technological development was suddenly upon us. Today, technology dominates many areas of our living and working lives. Technology is in homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals, leisure centers, and public spaces. Sports activities are no exception. Take a quick look at the hi-tech sports gadgets that are available to athletes today.
Sports professionals are often seeking ways to get a mental advantage over their competitors. Sometimes they do this by playing in a particular way. Think of how the New Zealand All Blacks perform a haka, a Maori challenge dance, before every rugby game. There are now also a rising number of devices aiming to help athletes do this in a different way. For example, Virtual Reality (VR) training can capture 3D footage of games such as football so that players learn new ways to use playbooks. This lessens the risk of injury from impact in training.
Then there are the devices designed to stimulate the brain in other ways. A relatively new gadget strengthens the connection between the brain’s signaling capacity and the athlete’s muscles: developer foc.us uses leads attached to the head, which has the appearance of clinical equipment, while Halo Neuroscience disguises its device in a set of headphones.
You will also find eyewear that is very effective at hiding technology for analyzing brainwaves. Electrodes are sited in the bridge and the arms of the sunglasses, and the developers aim to assist athletes in improving their mental focus, as they can monitor their performance via an app.
Fitness trackers and other wrist-worn wearables have found their way into everyday life, as well as being popular among athletes. In the drive to improve sports performance, athletes have also adopted the benefits of compression clothing with enthusiasm. Most compression gear can be worn under other clothing or alone, and sportswomen are increasingly choosing undergarments that further improve performance, such as mid-rise hipster-style briefs, while boxer shorts and undershirts are popular among sportsmen.
Gathering biometric data has become easier with the introduction of hearables. Biological data such as core body temperature is collected and analyzed via a sensor in a tiny ear bud, making this an attractive and non-invasive option. Other sensors that seek to be invisible are those hidden inside shoes. Taken together, wearables can help athletes to improve their training techniques and, ultimately, their performance.
New hi-tech insoles for athletic shoes, VKTRY, have been designed for use in the “final push” phase of elite competitions. Remarkably light at less than one ounce, they are flexible and stable. The manufacturers wanted to develop technology that would harness the energy expended by the athlete and return it to them as a result of the reactive force of the ground.
As research studies indicate that high-level footballers are at risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and long-term brain damage, so companies that make helmets have been seeking new design ideas to offer more protection. The aim is to ensure that the helmet absorbs as much impact as possible, a vital development in a sport where both impact and speed are growing.
Mouthguards are worn in many contact sports; however, the latest developments have made them even smarter than before. Australian company Hit IQ has created a sophisticated guard fitted with sensors, the Nexus 9, which collects accurate data on the location, direction, and magnitude of head impacts. This is an important breakthrough in the management of concussions on the sports field.
Technology for Sports Accuracy
Baseball technology has moved on considerably, and there are new training techniques being introduced by coaches to enhance performance. Data tracking is helping teams measure the spin of a ball and the speed of a bat. Just like a Fitbit for baseball bats, information is gained from sensors within bats, usually just below the handle. The analytics are coming up with some intriguing and highly useful results.
Finally, as well as developments aimed at athletes, there are new ways in which games can be observed and adjudicated. Software programs such as Hawk Eye help umpires and referees monitor how play is proceeding and settle contentious issues, particularly in sports such as tennis and cricket. In baseball and basketball, replays are gradually being used to double-check results. As new technology continues to be introduced, sports will benefit as much from science as the other areas of our lives.