Elite athletes are using more and more sophisticated tech tools to improve training and performance. Stadiums now use audience analysis and drones to improve the live and televised experience. Much of this sport technology could eventually end up in the hands of consumers looking to improve their health and well-being.
Professional NFL players are retiring early, citing a history of concussions and the risks of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. In January of 2020, seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly retired from the NFL at just 28 years old, and he wasn’t the first to hang up his helmet before 30. Rob Gronkowski and Andrew Luck both retired last year at age 29.
As competitive sports become more intense, data-tracking tools could help prevent the kinds of injuries that have led to these early retirements. But this has significance beyond concussions in the NFL.
In 2015, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Europe’s governing body for professional soccer, or FIFA) approved the use of “wearable technology” in games. Since then, athletes have started using increasingly complex performance tracking systems such as smart gloves and smart helmets.
Football equipment manufacturer Riddell now makes smart helmets outfitted with tiny sensors that transmit impact data in real time. Coaches on the sidelines can see the effects of single and multiple impacts sustained during a game, and they receive alerts if the numbers get too high.
The Wilson X Connected basketball is embedded with sensors and tracks patterns in shooting. Adidas makes a smart soccer ball with integrated sensors that can detect speed, spin, strike, and trajectory when the ball is kicked. Meanwhile stadiums employ drones and video for everything from audience sentiment analysis to cleaning up garbage after games.
Italian equipment manufacturer TechnoGym is developing next-generation machines that incorporate a user’s biometric data, which can be tracked before, during and after exercise. Emerging research in reduced-gravity activity is helping athletes re-acclimate after injury. AlterG’s anti-gravity treadmill automatically unweights athletes to as little as 20% of body weight in precise 1% increments for low-impact, pain-free movement.
Smart sports equipment could reach a market size of $12 billion over the next five years. The use of advanced technology in both analytics and performance is likely to alter the state of many contemporary sports.
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