Technology is reshaping all aspects of our lives. Once a week, in The Future of series, we take a look at innovations in important areas, from agriculture to transportation, and what they will mean in the years and decades to come.
With time running out and the chance of a crucial victory in sight, Australian rugby star Johnathan Thurston lined up for a potentially winning kick. What was going through his head? Nerves? Did he replay past successes, or dwell on mistakes and become anxious?
No. He was as cool as a cucumber for the whole country to see, as his biometrics – his real-time beating heart rate, maximum, and average – were streamed live with the game. In fact, his pulse went down from previous peaks, a triumph of training on the nerves.
This isn’t a futuristic take on the sport’s destination: the game took place in Queensland in 2017, courtesy of wearable tech company Catapult Sports – and that’s just a clue to the future of the game. sport.
Today: what happens when biometrics and athletes meet?
Watch a regular sporting event on TV, whether it’s America’s hobby or a grudge match, and you might not realize how much technology has already changed the game. Sure, data reinvented baseball years ago thanks to sabermetry, but that was actually just the front page of the spreadsheet. The stats were different, but the players and coaches hadn’t changed at all. And a new generation of companies is aiming to tackle this.
“We’re trying to solve the puzzle of human performance,” Tal Brown explained during a recent panel on the intersection of technology and sport. Brown is CEO of Zone7, which makes a data-driven AI system that studies the performance of elite athletes in order to transform the role of the coach by offering insights that just wasn’t possible when Barry Bonds fought. How hard was he working? Was he at his peak or on the way out?
“We are trying to solve the puzzle of human performance.”
“Twenty years ago, trainers had no way of knowing what the sweet spot was,” says John Coulson, Director of Partnerships for Catapult. Today, the portable sensor made by his company – which fits into a vest and sits well between the shoulder blades – measures 1,000 data points per second. Combined with sleep data, biometrics from wearable devices like smartwatches, GPS data and inertial sensors, and more, can tell a modern trainer the specific exertion level of anyone at any given time.
Transmit it in real time to the sidelines and a coach can see the actual demand of a given athlete. Patrick Mahomes ready for a taste of QB? Today, there is no need to guess. Real-time data can also be useful for risk assessment. In baseball, injuries can sideline a player and reshape a team’s playoff hopes. According to a recent analysis of the 2019 season, Zone7’s AI could have detected 45 key pitching injuries in advance, or 70% of them. Sabermetrics? These are saber-toothed tiger metrics.
Tomorrow: faster networks will transform coaching
Technology like Zone7 and Catapult is really in its infancy, and the study of biometric data is just beginning. Think of the continual search for real-time blood pressure data or the sudden interest in VO2 max data, a measure of how much oxygen your body consumes during a workout. That said, one of the biggest challenges with real-time analytics is the movement of data.
Faster networking is a crucial aspect, and 5G absolutely can do it. I recently visited a Formula 1 circuit in Barcelona, where the amazing Lewis Hamilton and the AMG Petronas team showed me firsthand how data has transformed the world’s fastest sport. An F1 car is covered with an incredible array of sensors – even the tires have them – allowing a pit crew to extract 2TB of data from a car in a single race weekend. The melting point of the tires is measured by integrated sensors. The runway burn is analyzed and recorded by thermal cameras under the front cone. And with 5G, that data is sent to contextual data warehouses for instant analysis. Replace “athlete” with “car” and you will see the future of sport.
“More and more we see the element of calculation and the human element coming together,” Tom Fitzpatrick told me with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team.
Replace “athlete” with “car” and you will see the future of sport.
With 5G coverage of arenas and stadiums, coaches of tomorrow will be able to make real-time calls on individual matches based on The data, not just instinct. Which players are available, what strength does the opposing team need to attack, and who has the specific strengths needed to attack them? Real-time biometric data will also transform the fan experience. Imagine a feed on your smartphone showing the overall strength left in your fancy list. Will my team be able to hollow it out, given the reserves they have in the tank? How fast did Megan Rapinoe run, how high did Kevin Durant just jump? What metrics can we bet on in the years to come?
The data will shape our understanding of how far an athlete can go and what their career looks like. In the past, it was easy for a talent scout to dismiss someone as “injury prone”. A thorough analysis of biometric data will reveal truths, rather than gut feelings. And it will help extend the career – something every fan can appreciate.