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Zebra MotionWorks Scrutinizes Athletic Performance

Teams are using RTLS RFID tags to monitor the location, speed and orientation of players on the field, with the goal of improving training and management, as well as enhancing the experience for spectators watching a game on television or online.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 02, 2013

By utilizing real-time location system (RTLS) data that pinpoints players' movements, sports teams could not only enhance the spectator's experience of watching a game on television or online, but also help coaches and managers better train and manage their players. That is the premise behind Zebra Technologies Corp.'s newly released MotionWorks Sports Solution, which monitors players' movements via ultra-wideband (UWB) RFID tags worn by the athletes, with the tags' transmissions received by readers installed on the playing field's sidelines, and with each tag analyzed by special software designed to determine a player's location, as well direction and speed of movement.

The resulting information, which would then be forwarded to a team's or broadcaster's existing coaching software system, could make spectators and coaches much more knowledgeable about each player's performance, Zebra Technologies reports.

Zebra's Jill Stelfox
The Zebra MotionWorks Sports Solution is being trialed by a professional sports team within the United States and another in the Asia-Pacific region, says Jill Stelfox, Zebra Technologies' general manager of location solutions. Due to non-disclosure agreements, she declines to provide details regarding the teams involved.

Zebra's Dart line of UWB RFID products is traditionally used worldwide for the real-time location of assets, work in progress or emergency evacuation in a variety of industries, including manufacturing. The Dart tags typically have a lifespan of more than seven years, and can be interrogated from a distance of up to 328 feet, with location granularity less than 1 foot. Recently, the company began exploring how the same technology used in the Dart tags and readers could be deployed within a high-speed environment, such as sports. The MotionWorks solution employs Zebra's Dart readers and a different form factor of the Dart tags.

According to Stelfox, there are other commercially available products that sports teams are currently using to track players optically on a field. However, she notes, some teams feel that the results are not as precise as they would need to be in order to provide useful location information, such as the direction in which an athlete moves, the varying speeds he or she reaches and that individual's proximity with other players. "RFID gives very precise data," she states, adding that in tests of the MotionWorks solution, Zebra yielded a location granularity of less than 6 inches.

The MotionWorks software provides analytics based on the collected location data, such as how fast a given player is moving at the beginning and end of a game. It can also determine when speeds may have changed—for example, following an injury incurred during a game. That information could then be reviewed by the team's staff on their management software, or by sports fans on television. It could also be used for safety purposes; for instance, the software could provide analysis indicating how hard players had collided with each other .

The tags are round, with a diameter about that of a quarter. A player wears two such tags—one on the front side of the body, the other on the back—either by placing them into a shoulder pad or sliding them into pockets in the uniform jersey designed for that purpose. Generally, between 12 and 30 receivers would be installed around a playing field's periphery, in order to enable multiple readers to capture each tag's transmissions and thereby provide more precise location data.

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