Sports wearables: Can we create the bionic man?
In sport, there’s a thin line between enhancing and boosting performance. From the days when male cyclists started shaving their legs for the aerodynamics, to the shark-skin swimming costumes worn in the last Olympics, athletes are looking for tiny, incremental but ultimately significant improvements in performance.
And for every bona-fide improvement there is also a sad tale of steroids or other drugs being used to boost performance beyond generally-acceptable standards – Lance Armstrong being the most famous recent example.
When it comes to the quantifiable self in professional sport, the more data, the better. Just as I’ve found that wristbands like the Jawbone UP and Fitbit Flex inspire people to take the stairs instead of the lift, so wearable technology is arriving rapidly in professional sport.
And for team sports, individuals’ data is being compiled with the aim of improving overall team performance – which is a fascinating concept. Was it a controversial decision to drop the star striker from the next soccer match? Almost certainly, but backed by stats which show that the individual in question has just peaked, it’s a different story.
Staying on soccer, the on-pitch performance of individual footballers has been tracked and analyzed for years – how far did the player run, how many tackles did he try, what was his pass rate, and so on.
Wearable technology is just starting to take that to a whole new level. The pursuit of sporting excellent could lead to the creation of the bionic man – or at least will reveal areas in which technology could help man to perform better.
It is not only collecting but analyzing and ultimately making sense of all this data that is the real challenge, and I’m looking forwards to learning more at the TMC Fitness and Sports Technology Expo on Monday in Los Angeles, at the session entitled Turning Real Time Biometric and On-court Data into Actionable Performance Gains: The Major Big Data Challenge. Panelists include Robert Connor, the CEO of Medibotics, and Frank Wheeler, Global Vice President, Sports and Entertainment at SAP – which is already known for handling vast quantities of big data thanks to its real-time analytics for enterprise computing.
SAP is working with the German soccer team Hoffenheim to collect and analyze performance data, but so far, soccer league rules prevent the actionable analytics actually being used in league matches.
That said, it would be fascinating to see how farming on-field stats could turn a dull 0-0 mid-table, midweek soccer game into a multi-goal spectacular. If it can, then it’s sure to pull in the crowds.