We all know how the NFL’s Super Bowl — America’s most-watched sporting event — goes: One team kicks off, and the ball tumbles into the returner’s hands. From the opening whistle, there are massive, rigid bodies plated in plastic pads and metal helmets smashing into one another at top speed, with the expressed intent of moving its target to the ground.
This makes for an entertaining spectacle, but one or more players will inevitably suffer an injury during the course of a given football game. This could be something as harmless as a cut or bruise, or something as life-threatening as a spinal injury or severe concussion, which has become the top health concern in American sports.
Now, imagine the action of the Super Bowl, and look a decade into the future:
One team kicks off, and the WiFi-enabled ball tumbles into the returner’s hands. From the opening whistle, there are massive, rigid bodies plated in plastic pads embedded with a heart monitor and metal helmets wired with pressure-sensitive sensors, smashing into one another at top speed (MPH of course measured by an accelerometer on each player’s wrist) with the expressed intent of moving its target to the ground, where a set of precise cameras will measure the exact location of the ball for placement on the next play.
Those injuries will still occur. But with hundreds of sensors on the people, field and machines involved, the harshness of injuries will be measured and relayed to team physicians in an instant, better equipping the NFL to make quick, smart decisions about treatment and to help collect information for prevention of future incidents.
If the risk of concussion is present, the player might wear an octopus-like “helmet” wrapped around his head. This device, complete with 256 perfectly-placed electrolyte-soaked sensors, will run comprehensive, accurate tests on the player’s brain to determine the best course of action. Sensor-infused technological advances like this may change the way sports are played and officiated forever; in some ways, they already are:
• FIFA used cameras to help determine whether a ball was officially in the goal or not during this year’s World Cup.
• At the NFL Draft Combine, several athletes display Under Armour’s shirts with built-in breathing monitors and accelerometers – this technology is tweaked and improved for every new combine.
• Major League Baseball is looking at sleeve technology that will measure a pitcher’s health in real-time and potentially cut down on the torn UCL epidemic.
• In professional tennis, Ralph Lauren just introduced high-performance shirts at the U.S. Open, which contain sensors knitted into the core of the product to read biological and physiological information; a major breakthrough in the Quantified Self movement.
• Professional cycling already features on-bike point-of-view camera shots and collects massive amounts of data to measure riders’ physiological signs. That data is published and broadcast to the public, heightening the incredible demands the sport places on these athletes.
Yours truly is up for an SXSWi 2015 session on sensors in sports and the science behind them. I’ll discuss the benefits of allowing technology to infiltrate the sports world, including my own predictions on which applications may be on the horizon. If you want to know everything about the Trillion Sensor Movement and its relation to your favorite sport, please visit the SXSW panel picker and give Synaptics a big thumbs-up! Voting ends this Friday, September 5th!
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