Getting a grip on the future of smart sports
Tactile sensing

Getting a grip on the future of smart sports

August 11, 2023
The sports sector's getting smarter on touch-technology

Optimising sports performance is a fine art. It takes patience. It takes sweat. And it takes data.

In recent years, the sports sector has done its best to embrace technology in a myriad of ways. Today athletes wear devices that can track heart rate, speed and distance travelled to personalise their training plans. But there are also racquets with sensors, smart footballs, and shoes with connected insoles.

But in other ways, efforts to digitalise the sports sector have been slower than expected. When the world’s oldest sporting goods company, Babolat, released its first smart tennis racquet in the US in 2013, one of its senior marketing managers said: “By 2020, everyone will play connected”. The reality could not be further from the truth.

Why is this such a tough nut to crack? And what might the future of connected sports look like?

Challenging compromises

The opportunity to make sense of how someone hits, kicks or throws the ball the way they do has fascinated coaches, enthusiasts and brands alike. But the engineers and product designers trying to solve this problem have a lot to consider. Smart racquets in particular have to have the same balance as a regular racquet so players don’t have to sacrifice feel or comfort. In sport, ergonomic performance has to be maintained at all times.

Devices will also need to be wireless, incorporate batteries with good energy efficiency, and have a Bluetooth connection so that they can give real-time feedback to players (or their coaches) via another device such as a phone. Most will also have to be waterproof and resistant to sweat.

The data collected needs to be accurate of course, but the insights also need to be helpful to a particular sport. In tennis, for example, metrics such as shot type, spin speed, and impact position are likely to be included. But in golf more relevant metrics might be swing speed, and grip pressure.

Product designers also need to think about mass manufacturing – a prototype may work well in testing but won’t have wider appeal if it can’t be produced at scale for the right price.

Getting a grip

The gap between where we are now and a connected sport utopia is vast. But our smart sensing surface technology provides inspiration for the future. What if, instead of adding sensors to clothing or shoes, or the strings of a racquet, the grip on the handle itself was the sensor? What if we could track the pressure an athlete applies throughout their game? And what if that data could then be used to improve their performance?

Measuring forces, mapping pressure, tracking activities, recognising human poses and movement patterns without the need for additional equipment can unlock a world of potential for sport professionals and enthusiasts alike.

Comfort doesn’t have to be sacrificed for functionality. Surfaces don’t need to be compromised in terms of their waterproof properties. Instead, our technology creates multi-touch interfaces that provide a deeper understanding of how someone is interacting with the product itself.

The possibilities are endless

Take a baseball bat for example. With this technology, professionals and amateurs can make use of elite player fitting, technical training aids and interact with others via live broadcast data and/or VR environments. Teams can monitor an athlete’s health to predict and prevent injury. And with analysis, they can track how pressure transitions throughout the swing, accuracy of execution and even individual finger squeeze force.

Other features such as haptics could trigger movements or alert when there’s a problem in training, such as over rotation or an overly tight grip. And there are various options for the grip itself, from a retrofittable smart sleeve or handle, to a smart glove, or a full bat.

This might just be the beginning in terms of sports performance. But it’s a great place to start.

++ If you’d like to learn how TG0’s touch-sensing technology can be moulded into any surface shape, contact us.

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