Connected Devices Continue Push for Sporting Greatness—Olympics or Not

By Carsten Rhod Gregersen

The Internet of Things is changing how athletes practice and perform sports, and how spectators interact with them.

It is easy to forget that this was meant to be an Olympic year. In fact, Tokyo 2020 was supposed to have ended a week ago. Previously heralded as one of the "smartest" games ever for its embrace of all things digital, the 32nd Olympiad now holds the distinction of being the first Summer Olympic Games to be postponed rather than cancelled.

While athletes and fans will need to wait another full year until the games can—hopefully—go on as scheduled, there is no delay in connected devices further pushing sports and athletes to new limits. The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to proliferate into sports to create vast swathes of data, reveal new insights, and ultimately improve performance. Devices empower athletes to better monitor their progression and teams to improve their in-game strategy. Moreover, sensors are being more regularly employed to benefit fans with state-of-the-art stadiums. In commemoration of the Olympics that wasn't, let's dive into the impact of connected devices in the wide world of sports.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
The advance of modern sports is inextricably tied to technology. From the introduction of lighter and flatter track shoes to formfitting swimsuits, new tech has continuously improved athlete performance. Connected devices are but another step in this rich evolution by helping to monitor progression and measure efficiencies.

Connected footwear, for example, uses pressure sensors to show where an individual balances his or her weight to unlock the ability to track maximum speed, stopping power and in-game stamina. Connected clothing, meanwhile, unlocks fitness insights like heart rate, breathing rate and muscle usage. These key insights are incorporated into training and encourage peak performance, like for marathon runners chasing the elusive sub-two-hour marathon and 100-meter sprinters striving to breach the nine-second barrier.

Then there is connected equipment. Soccer balls like the Adidas miCoach Smart Ball use a six-axis MEMS accelerometer sensor package to measure ball impact, ball spin, impact points and even visual flight trajectories. The sensor package, which is suspended in the middle of the ball, continuously measures the ball's movement and impact in real-time.

More Than the Individual
Better yet, the application of connected devices in sports is scalable. More players simply mean more sensors. Bringing this tech into team sports only amplifies the usable data that can be produced to push individuals within a team to reach their collective best. This is evident in weight rooms, for example, in which players wear smart clothing to identify when exercise is most efficient without becoming dangerously strenuous. This works to produce stronger parts of the whole and improve overall team potential.

In contact sports, meanwhile, sensors are proving vital in keeping players safe. The IoT is shaping the way that sports physicians, physical therapists and team doctors are reducing injuries and helping players heal faster, Deloitte reports. For example, helmet sensors hold great promise in measuring and reporting the impact of any hit in sports like American football. Sensors can transmit the severity of any high tackle instantly to the team's medical department so they can look out for each player's best interest in the heat of the game.

Playing Along at Home
The IoT is one of the rare technologies with the ability to improve the performance of athletes and the experience of onlookers at the same time. In addition to empowering peak performance, connected devices are also helping to create smart stadiums, improve digital engagement and ultimately boost the in-arena experience for sports fans. This is something we'll definitely see at the Tokyo Games. Robotic guides, crowd control directed by artificial intelligence and immersive virtual reality are among the IoT-enabled technologies that are set to excite fans at the coming Olympics.

This is part of a larger shift we are seeing in sports as organizations invest billions of dollars on new stadiums and stadium improvements to get fans off the couch and into the venue. For example, smart stadiums enable fans who opt into a smartphone app on arrival to interact directly with staff. Apps like this, reports Intel, can lead fans to their seats, offer upgrades, order food, and guide them to the concession stand or bathroom with the shortest line.

Connected devices present a wholesale shift to the way athletes practice sports and the way the rest of us interact with them. While the 2020 Olympics will have to wait for another year, it is exciting to think of the athletic performance and event spectacle which will be on display thanks to IoT in Tokyo.

Carsten Rhod Gregersen is the CEO and founder of Nabto, a P2P IoT connectivity provider that enables remote control of devices with secure end-to-end encryption.