18 Jan 2016

Predicting the future of sports - Smart shorts, socks and glasses point to a very different world.

Wearable technology really took off in 2015, and if this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is anything to go by, this year will see it change the way we view and play sport.

Of course, technology and science is already playing an ever increasing role in mapping the future of sports.

NFL players have small radio chips inside their shoulder pads that collect and transmit performance data to team management and fans.

Hawk-Eye is used in tennis tournaments and cricket matches to help officials make the right call (much the same way as video replays are used in several football codes).

And sports science is being used to identify stress and sleep deprivation in professional athletes.

However, a new round of innovations presented at this year’s CES show even more potential for a shake-up of sport as we know it.

Consider the Lumo Run – running shorts that contain a sensor that collects data and sends it to an app, which can then give you tips on how to improve your running.  If you’re too attached to your existing running shorts, perhaps you’d consider a smart sock?

Also demonstrated at the show was Oakley’s Radar Pace – a pair of “interactive” sunglasses that includes a “voice-activated, real-time coaching system” that some have likened to Siri for athletes.

The glasses act like having a coach right beside you – encouraging you to push a bit harder if you’re slower than previous days.

Road cyclists also have glasses targeted at them by GPS maker Garmin. The Varia device not only provides valuable real-time performance data but it can also warn about traffic behind you that is getting too close for comfort.

Running shoe maker New Balance meanwhile will use camera technology to image a customer’s foot and then 3D print a “personalised mid-sole” – presumably to improve comfort and performance.

And snowboarders competing in the upcoming X Games will use connected snowboards that feed live data back to commentators at ESPN and directly to fans watching.

There were also more traditional wearables shown off at CES, but the new breed is perhaps more aesthetically pleasing or fashionable than the standard band or watch design.

Take the Oura ring or the Mira bracelets, which look more like regular jewellery than wearable computers.

What does all this mean for the future of sport? Cynthia Bir, lead scientist at ESPN’s Sport Science program believes that advanced technology will play an increasing role in “actual sporting events”.

“We do a lot during training and we do a lot during practices, and we get numbers and feedback. But to actually do it during a game is quite different,” Bir told TED.

“I think we’ll start to see more and more teams, coaches and athletic trainers using … instant feedback, whether it be to detect an injury or to say, ‘Okay, this is what’s happening on the field, and this is how you need to adapt to it’.”