Sports Technology and Smart Devices in Athletics

15th September 2021
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Connected Technology & Wearables in Sports: A Helping Hand or Unfair Advantage?

How is IoT and Technology Impacting Sport, and Where Is The Future for Tech in Sport?

 

From the launch of Hawkeye technology in Tennis and Cricket in the early 2000s, to the controversy around the LZR swimsuit at the Beijing Olympics in 2008; to the current boom of wearables for sports and health monitoring, tech is becoming increasingly common in the world of sport.

Whether used for professional athletes to measure inputs such as gait, heart rate, time in motion or speed, or just as simple IoT devices for counting steps in the average walker, connected technology is changing the way we exercise. It’s impacting every element of sport and exercise from spectating, participation and competing, healthcare around sports, and sports as a commercial industry. 

But with connected devices, sensors, cameras and even virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR) now becoming more prevalent in sport, is this new tech wave a good or bad thing? And what are the considerations for developing a sports technology device?

Performance athlete running with metric symbols superimposed showing speed, location and energy



Jump to a section:

Types of Sports Technology

Developing a Wearable or Electronic Product for Sports

Does Connected Technology Create an Unfair Advantage?

How Does Sports Technology Benefit Athletes and Users?

Wider Benefits of IoT and Tech in Sports and Recreation

Types of Sports Technology 

One of the biggest sectors in sports technology is of course,  wearables. From wrist wear GPS trackers and heart monitors, to fully connected sports analytics vests, the sports wearables market was predicted to be worth nearly $15 billion by this year. 

Connected, small form sensors in watches, vests, head gear or even footwear can provide invaluable data to athletes and their support staff. It is small wonder that this is one of the fastest growing uses of smart technology and electronics in sport.

Aside from wearable technology, cameras and drones with advanced computing functionality have seen increased use in competitive sports. An example is the Hawkeye System, used in tennis and more recently in international soccer competitions as a goal line monitor. 

There are also technologies for monitoring and providing feedback on injuries (or the potential for injury) now becoming more popular. At LX, we recently worked with our client Headsafe to develop a connected, portable brain assessment device that can help medical professionals determine likelihood of concussion. Such devices can be used for preventative activities, by examining risk factors in an athlete’s performance that could lead to injury. They can also be used to help with diagnosis of injury, or provide data insights for ‘return to activity’ windows in recovering athletes. 

Alongside from the commercial ubiquity of hardware-based tech products, the rise of software and big data in sport has been just as transformational across the industry. From algorithms for assessing relative player value, to real time game analysis and new ways of engaging with audiences at home and in the stadium, data now underpins how many of us interact with competitive sport. 

 

Developing a Wearable or Electronic Product for Sports

With an increasingly competitive and fragmented market, and new restrictions on tech being posed by health and legal bodies, what are the considerations when developing a wearable or piece of electronic technology for the sports market?

Firstly, engineers and companies want to consider where the tech is being used. Is it a training aid, or something to be used in live games? If the latter, then what are the laws or code of conduct that governs technology use for that sport in that country? What are the legal considerations on an international level?

More practically, you may need to consider what type of activity the device is being used for. If it is remote sensing or monitoring and not a wearable, then likely size and weight are less of a consideration. Similarly, if it’s a tracker to be attached to a watercraft or bike, considerations around IP and IK rating would be important. 

If you are designing a connected wearable, however, then small form or low profile devices are usually desirable. This is so that they do not inhibit the athlete, or have the potential to cause injury. Particularly in contact sports such as rugby, polo or American football, considerations around impact; not only in regard to hardware and industrial design to protect the device, but also to ensure the device does not injure players, is of vital importance. 

Expanding on IP rating, for water sports or winter sports where temperature is a factor, does the device need to be able to operate under extremes of temperature? And if out on the water, or in use in more remote locations, what kind of network connectivity is best? For example, the network used for data transmission on a tracker for an endurance runner out in rural areas is likely to be different to that for a soccer player in an urban stadium, with access to wifi coverage. 

Finally what is the function this device is performing? How accurate does reporting data need to be, and what is the required frequency of transmission? To use the endurance runner example, GPS tracking might only need to be approximate with reporting every hour or so. In contrast, a tennis player might need heart rate, distance travelled and serve speed reporting in near real-time.  

Ultimately, these environmental and use case factors will determine the look, size, weight and network capability of a connected sports device. 

 

Do you have an idea for a connected sports wearable or IoT device you’d like to discuss? Contact us today for an obligation free discussion. 

Close up of tennis racket resting on net with partial view of player in background

Does Connected Technology Create an Unfair Advantage?

Since its introduction into sport, tech has created division and courted controversy among