IoT & Embedded Technology Blog

Embedded Technology Helps Sports Organizations Optimize Performance

by Brendan Bradley | 3/17/2023

Athletic organizations across the world have begun to view IoT devices and the data they can glean from them as an important factor in optimizing player performance, mitigating injuries, and increasing fan engagement.

With CEO Satya Nadella’s cricket obsession, Microsoft has consistently established connections with the sport. Most recently, the company has brought big data to the cricket world. Collaborating with cricket legend Anil Kumble’s start-up Spektacom, Microsoft developed a connected bat known as the Power Bat. The bat itself is unextraordinary, and the embedded technology can be applied to any old cricket bat. The important part is an inconspicuous credit card-sized sticker placed on the backside of a bat. This sticker, which uses Microsoft’s Azure Sphere, enables key data such as the speed and angle twist of the swing, and quality and power of the shot to be analyzed and communicated real-time via the cloud to broadcasters and coaches alike. This process also makes use of Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge, a service which moves data processing to devices on the edge of the cloud in order to improve performance.

The NFL has had a close partnership with Zebra Technologies since it debuted its RFID-based MotionWorks tracking system in 2015. Since then, Zebra has continued to develop its MotionWorks system, which relies upon two tags placed in the shoulder pads of each player. Using these tags, sensors placed throughout the stadium track individual movements of each player, providing valuable insights to both teams and broadcasters known as Next Gen Stats. Trainers can use these stats when diagnosing and treating hurt players, analyzing which specific movements caused the injury. Coaches use the detailed data to inform playmaking and post-game analysis, replacing the outdated process of watching game film. The detailed tracking of movement allows broadcast companies to enhance their instant replays with simulated paths taken by each player.

A key factor in the success of Duke University’s sports sciences program, and perhaps the current record of the men’s basketball team, has been its investments into data analytics. Hidden under their jerseys, each player has a small device placed between their shoulder blades. This device, the Vector T7 by Catapult, is the latest wearable offering from the sports technology solutions vendor. The Vector T7 uses an embedded triaxial accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and magnetic heart rate receiver to collect player data, which is then transmitted to the OpenField cloud via a UWB antenna. Data can be observed and analyzed live using the OpenField+ iOS app. Combined with Catapult’s ClearSky Local Positioning System and Basketball Movement Profile, Duke’s training and coaching staff have been able to use data analytics to inform practice and game decisions in real-time. Training staff monitor data from players during practice and pre-game drills. If they determine that a player is over-exerting themselves they can make instant adjustments, optimizing energy and reducing fatigue. With the Basketball Movement Profile categorizing and quantifying each movement made by a player, technique can be tweaked with data-informed insight, and potentially injury-inducing explosive movements can be minimized. After successfully undergoing beta-testing with Duke University and The Ohio State University, the device will be available for purchase to public consumers starting April 1, 2023.

Key Considerations
In addition to a strong focus on the physical aspects of the device, providing end-users with an easy-to-use API is a key necessity. It is important to note that, while end-users are experts in sports medicine and training, they are not necessarily data analysts. Real-time decisions have to be made, informed by the data provided by the device. Thus, providing easily digestible data and statistics will be key to attracting and retaining customers. Emphasizing successful use cases will also prove valuable in customer acquisition, as individuals and organizations may prove hesitant to adopt entirely new and unfamiliar systems and shed age-old practices that are engrained in culture and practice.

Having options with price variability for organizations of all sizes will be key to the athletic IoT device industry. While these athletics programs may be able to spend millions on data solutions for their teams, small high-school programs may only have a few hundreds or thousands of dollars within their budgets. With increased awareness of injuries and associated risks for sports participants, limiting customer base to only those organizations with the largest budgets will cut out a large section of the total addressable market. The current sports wearables market is still very much in the early phases, with end users consisting mainly of innovators and early adopters. As the consumer base expands and matures due to expanded offerings and proofs of concept, vendors will be able to take advantage of economies of scale, spreading high R&D costs across an increased number of units. Furthermore, new entrants in the market are still attempting to offer distinct products and services that address unique issues, capturing individual shares of the market and increasing overall competition. Both of these developments will lead to lower pricing, making wearable technology more accessible to everyday users.