This blog post was written by Nick Viney.
When we think about the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) in sports and fitness, the first things which spring to mind are probably wearable devices, or health monitoring apps that track performance and targets. However, it’s not just activity monitoring hardware that is shaking up the world of sports, we’re also seeing new examples of IoT that are changing the way sports are practised, played and watched.
While the use of IoT on the ‘centre court’ of sports gets most of the attention, the growing use of smart technology behind the scenes is also pretty exciting. I’ve hand-picked a few of my favourite sports to take a look at where and how IoT is being used.
To kick things off, let’s look at arguably the most popular sport in the world – football, fútbol, fussball or soccer, depending on where you’re from. From the Premier League to La Liga, clubs are increasingly using smart footballs during training. These track player performance through sensors located on the inside of the ball, as well as in their boots. The purpose of this is to provide coaches with instant feedback on players’ performance, collecting data on aspects such as spiral efficiency, spin rate, distance and throw velocity. Sensors are also being incorporated into team kits, so club doctors can be alerted to any unusual heart patterns or changes in temperature. But it isn’t just about player performance. Some clubs have introduced IoT-connected lighting on pitches with ‘comfort’ levels to reduce glare for fans, as well as minimise energy costs.
As far back as 2010, rugby teams have been using IoT to track their players’ locations through devices worn under their clothing, with League One Club, Bradford Bulls, being one of the first teams to use satellite positioning systems in a game. Nowadays, the Irish and English national Rugby League teams are using STATsports devices to track the wearer’s heart and breathing rates, as well as muscle activity. This means that coaches can spot players that might be feeling the burn and substitute them for a pair of fresh legs, if necessary. More recent advances include sensors being fitted in shoulder pads, also known as force sensors, which captures data from collisions. This data can then be reviewed by coaches and physiotherapists to determine how players should be treated to best limit or recover from injury.
Based on the game-changing variables of a cricket match, for example, the length, the weather and how or when the wicket might break up, it’s no wonder the sport was so keen to embrace IoT. Cricket clubs have not only used the technology to improve the monitoring and wellbeing of their players, but also the fan experience. This year in June, the ICC Champions Trophy was the first ever ‘smart cricket’ tournament, which featured virtual reality, drones, connected stadiums and even batting sensors in a bid to bring the sport alive for fans.
In the world of sport, tennis is pretty much a veteran when it comes to the use of IoT. Hawk-Eye technology has been used in tennis since 2005 and tracks the path of the ball in flight, allowing players to challenge controversial decisions made by the umpire. In more recent years, technological devices have been placed in tennis players’ racket handles and sewn into wristbands to measure how well a ball was hit, the motion of the racket in hand and the player’s overall performance.
Of course, while more technology in sport can be a great thing, it also comes with risks. There’s no doubt that pushing players harder makes for better and more exciting games, but clubs need to ensure all smart devices and data monitoring systems are sufficiently safe and secure. Strong passwords, protected networks and the latest software are all absolutely critical, especially given the money behind modern sports. As it increasingly becomes the norm to store information on the Cloud and with more data being handled than ever before, sport is becoming a different ‘ball game’ to what it once was. For example, poorly secured IoT devices could be vulnerable to hacking, theft of personal data or even corporate espionage – the stakes are high.
It’s an exciting but important time for the fusion of sport and technology. As time goes on I’m sure we’ll see further developments as IoT becomes more commonplace, in sport, just as we’ve seen in other industries. The balancing act will be ensuring the technology adds to the game, doesn’t detract from the abilities of the players – and of course, doesn’t pose a security issue for clubs, teams and associations.
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