Rethinking Healthcare

Wearable sensors collect data on athletes while they play

Wearable sensors collect data on athletes while they play

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Under Armour's body-monitoring shirt could one day broadcast a player's biometric stats in real-time for doctors to maintain athlete health, trainers to tailor workouts, and fans to fixate on.

Soon, there could be another up-to-the-minute statistic to pay attention to during a game… the players’ vital signs.

Under Armour and Zephyr Technology have developed a body-monitoring shirt to measure heart rate and electrical activity, lung capacity, metabolism, and other such biometrics that look within athletes as they perform. Technology Review reports.

During last February’s NFL Combine to assess top-ranked college players, high-profile draftees wore UA E39 ‘genius’ shirts fitted with sensor technology. Stats, such as acceleration during the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash, were recorded during various physical trials.

"Millions of dollars in decisions are made based on the 40-yard dash," says cardiologist Leslie Saxon of University of Southern California. "If you can get much more sophisticated statistics on body position, physiology, and mechanics, I think it could play a big role."

The newest version:

  • is a disc that holds sensors for heart and breathing rates, temperature, and movement. A “futuristic puck centered on the chest,” Zephyr's Brian Russell calls it.
  • contains a power source, Bluetooth transmitter, and memory storage.
  • is paired with fabric electrodes embedded in a chest strap, shirt, or sports bra.

The data can help with athlete safety. For example, heart rate can be used to predict dehydration and even ultimately, sudden cardiac death.

Saxon wants to use the tech to better understand how an athlete's heart behaves under stress of the game. "We want to create a safer playing field for everyone, to be able to prolong athletes' careers and understand how to train them better," she says. Last month, she put wireless EKG patches on USC's football team for a week – as a proof-of-principle demo for a larger NFL-funded project.

The device could also personalize workouts. "That's the trend in both medicine and sports," Russell says. "Because you can measure it, you can personalize it." If the player is above or below ‘anaerobic threshold,’ muscles start producing lactic acid, prolonging recovery time. "You can put them in the tight training zone for peak fitness and no injury," he adds.

And the immediate feedback plays to competitive natures. "I am convinced it helps them perform better because they are getting measured,” Russell says.

Besides enhancing players' health and helping trainers tailor workouts, the device also has prospects for entertainment. The sports industry is already working on ways to broadcast physiological stats in real-time during games – in stadiums and on TV – giving fans unprecedented insight into players.

More than 50 college and pro teams, ranging from basketball to volleyball, now monitor their players using the tech.

Via MIT Technology Review.

Images: Under Armour / Zephyr Technology

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure