New sensors allow for big data to be captured for sports events

27 February 2017

New sensors, designed to be embedded in sports equipment, are being developed with the aim of providing real-time analytics to a smartphone. This is part of schemes designed to make big data analytics more accessible.

The improvement with sensors works with the use of Internet of Things devices so the sensors can be embedded into sports equipment (such as balls, rackets, and shoes), as well as in wearable devices. The aim is to collect data for analysis. Such data can be used to help sports people track personal goals, to aid with training, or to improve with the collection of data for sports events. With the latter, imagine a baseball game or tennis match where data can be provided about the speed that a ball was struck with, together with precision about the trajectory and linking this to historical statistics about a player. This information might also be utilized by companies that specialize in gambling – will player x hit the ball harder than player y?

This type of information is discussed today, but it is often inaccurate or it is acquired through expensive cameras placed in the bigger sports arenas. To lower the cost and to increase coverage for sports analytics scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have taken Internet of Things devices, like low-cost sensors and radios, and embedded these into sports equipment.
To make the sensors work the research group has developed advanced motion tracking algorithms. These, when tested in everything from players shoes to balls, have provided useful real-time analytics. This includes accurately detailing ball motion three dimensionally, collecting information relating to the ball’s trajectory, orientation, and revolutions per second.

To protect the sensors from physical damage (as will occur on the sports field), the sensors are wrapped in a protective case. The information collected can be passed onto a smartphone as well as the more powerful equipment in sports arenas or used by broadcasters. This makes the technology suitable for school or college use. By bluetoothing information over to mobile device school coaches will be able to provide quantifiable feedback to their students, and very rapidly.

There are also safety features should sensors be placed inside football helmets. Here the sensors could inform about the nature of an impact and the risks of concussion.

Discussing the possibilities with the sensors, Mahanth Gowda who worked on the project, said: "There's a lot of interest in analyzing sports data though high-speed cameras, but a system can cost up to $1 million to implement and maintain. It's only accessible to big clubs."