Monday, 06 April 2015 09:44

How the Internet of Things will change the future of sport Featured


The Internet of Things will change many things, even the game of cricket. By identifying problems early, injury can be prevented later.

We are at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, at a seminar organised by software company SAP. We are here to listen to a panel of athletes and sports consultants talk about how sensors and other technologies associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) can be used in sport, and specifically cricket.

SAP provided the data analytics for the 2015 Cricket World Cup, and is now looking to extend that capability to biometrics, using emerging IoT technology. The IoT is essentially about sensors – tiny general purpose and specialist devices that can be used to track virtually anything that can be measured quantitatively. That’s where the oft-mentioned billions of ‘things’ in the IoT come from.

The sensors can be attached to most things. They are used in retailing, in manufacturing, in transport and logistics – and in sport. Formula One motor racing has shown the lead, with hundreds of small monitors tracking everything that moves, including the driver’s condition.

Sensors on human bodies are now becoming commonplace with the explosion in wearable devices. From there it is a short step to monitoring athlete’s movements, to detecting the sub-optimal action of any body part and signs of stress and strain, to provide early warning signs of injury.

Professional sport is a business, with Injury to players one of its biggest costs, along with payroll, facilities and marketing. It exacts an even higher cost on the athletes themselves - when left unchecked an injury can easily end a player’s career. This is not only relevant to professional sport – the total cost of all sports injuries to Australia is more than $11 billion a year, according to research by Monash University.

SAP says the IoT opens up many opportunities in sports medicine and in improving the health of athletes. “Through body monitoring, medical staff can gain better insights into the health of their players, are able to identify possible areas of exhaustion or injury through repetitive movement and can even predict sickness, such as the onset of cold or flu.”

Cricket has changed more than most sports over the last decade, with more matches being played in each season and with the increased importance of short forms of the game. Twenty overs a side T20 is already the dominant format in the world’s largest cricketing nation, India, where the T20 IPL is the richest competition in the global game.

Due to the increased amount of cricket being played at both the domestic and international levels and varying degrees of workload for players in different forms of the game, the rate of injury has also increased. This is especially the case for fast bowlers, who record the highest rate of injury.

One of the panellists at our session at the MCG is Australian bowler Shaun Tait, one of the fastest bowlers ever to play the game. In his prime he regularly delivered balls at 160 km/h. Tait was wired up with a sensor or two before sending down a couple in the nets.

“I wish he had this technology earlier in my career,” he said, lamenting a career so severely truncated by elbow injury he only ever played three Test matches. “This is the best technology I have ever seen.” He now concentrates on T20 cricket, where the shorter bowling spells are less wearing on the body.

Many studies have shown the range of factors that can cause fast bowlers to break down – inadequate physical fitness, a high bowling workload, a poor bowling action. Stress fractures of the back are particularly common. By analysing historical and real-time data, coaches, team doctors and physiotherapists can determine the correlation between these factors and how they increase the probability of certain types of injury.

The first presentation at our session is from Dr Eduard Ferdinands, a sports biomechanist from the University of Sydney. He specialises in automotion analysis and dynamic modelling of bowling and batting actions, and is probably the world’s leading exponent of using technology to providing insights into the mechanisms of the cricket technique used by the world’s top cricketers. He is himself a cricket coach and a former first class cricketer, and is chairman of the World Congress of Science and Medicine in Cricket, which met during the Cricket World Cup.

Dr Ferdinands made something of a name for himself when he developed the first 3D kinetics model of bowling in cricket, making an important scientific contribution to the justification of the 15 degree elbow extension tolerance to determine bowling action legality. His work was instrumental in clearing Sri Lankan spinning legend Muttiah Muralitharan – who took more Test wickets than any bowler in the history of the game – of a suspect bowling action.

He also works on the biomechanics of golf, tennis, rugby, baseball and a range of other sports. “We evaluate bowlers when they come into our lab with a comprehensive 3D analysis of the alignment of their shoulders and hips during delivery,” he explains.

“We map the body’s kinetics to build a performance profile which highlights injury risk areas. We combine this with their previous injury history of injury and work out whether any technical intervention is necessary."

Dr Ferdinands says such analysis is the future of professional sport. “Teams and athletes that don’t do it will get left behind,” he said.

Another panellist is Dr Oren Tirosh, a biomechanist at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital. Dr Tirosh has developed Gaitabase –a database of human gaits – running and walking – which researchers from all round the world can add to and reference. “It’s a web based repository of 3D motion analysis,” he explains. “We use the system for benchmarking and quality assurance, clinical consultation, and collaborative research.”

And for checking athlete’s actions. Dr Tirosh took us through graphic analysis of a runner’s stride, highlight a lack of symmetry in one spot that could put unnecessary strain on one side of the body.

SAP has developed a specialist team to develop sports informatics, which it sees as a major growth area. It sponsors and is involved with many global sporting events, a soft sell to get its name and its technology in front of as many people as possible.

SAP’s involvement in cricket is comparatively recent, but it has many diehard cricket fans, many of them of Indian origin, on its staff. It has used its analytics technology to develop a cricketing Injury Risk Monitor, which uses the latest IoT and analytics technologies for sports injury prevention – with fast bowlers the guinea pigs.

Injury Risk Monitor is not a product, at least not yet. It is a ‘proof of concept’ that SAP says has been developed together with leading sports medicine practitioners, physiotherapists, researchers and team doctors to “explore the art of the possible in the application of technology in preventative sports medicine.”

I have seen the future of sports, and it is here now.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson sadly passed away in Jan 2021 and he was always a valued senior associate editor at iTWire. He was one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is the author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’He was in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism. Graeme will be sadly missed by the iTWire Family, Readers, Customers and PR firms.

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