Wearing a chest belt during sports like handball is hardly realistic

Björn Eskofier is Head of the Digital Sports and Sportronics Group at the Pattern Recognition Lab of the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg. He is also Assistant Professor for Computer Science in Sports (endowed professorship of adidas AG). He has dedicated his research to a number of Wearable Technologies’ topics and we are delighted that he agreed to a short interview with us:

1. On what wearable topics are you currently working?

On the technology side we are working on the integration of sensors into clothing and communication protocols: comparison and implementation, sensor data transmission: safety&security, intelligent sensor nodes, algorithms for sensor data fusion and embedded classification, user interface: smartphones&tablets for instant feedback.
On the applications side: we are encouraging activity and movement (i.e. through social networks), team sports (i.e. soccer, basketball, golf): Recognition and evaluation of movement patterns; activity and performance analysis; analysis of physiological and biomechanical data, clinically relevant studies: gait changes in Parkinson patients; rehabilitation of stroke patients and monitoring general activities within the home environment.

2. What parameters do you use to evaluate and prepare the data from your sport analysis systems? Are those mostly general parameters or will future sport analysis systems be using more specific metrics for different types of sports?

I think that, in future, many of the relatively general parameters will need to be improved considerably to suit the specific requirements of different sports. We can already record a great deal of information but now we have to focus on tailoring our approach to meet the specific needs of each sport. For example, heart rate is often relevant, but wearing a chest belt during sports like handball is hardly realistic.
We need new, innovative measuring techniques. Let’s look at another example: sensors for capturing running speed (often) work well while jogging. In sports such as soccer, for instance, special changes have to be made to the algorithms used because the assumptions taken into account for jogging are, of course, invalid.

3. Is there a common data standard or a platform for the use of sport analysis sensors from different manufacturers? Is there currently any cooperation for the joint use of sport analysis data or do you envisage this happening in the future?

Not to my knowledge.    I only know the established isolated applications. From my experience in the sporting goods industry, I think that common standards are still some way off. Manufacturers are currently pursuing a closed policy as they prefer to keep their ideas close to their chest before launching a new product.
These isolated applications are thus still pretty much short-term, but behind the scenes there is already evidence of a slight trend towards cooperation and standardization.

4. Will professional athletes be equipped with sensors during training and competitions in the future? Do you think that implants could be used in the sports context? When will these professional technologies emerge from the research lab?

As regards training, increasing numbers of coaches and individual athletes are becoming more and more convinced of the benefits of such supporting systems. Competition regulations have, of course, to be borne in mind (i.e. according to the DFB/IFA, the use of sensors is still not allowed during matches) but the added value for athletes will be the crucial factor in the end.
As for implants, I remain rather sceptical but it is difficult to predict what the future holds.
The last question is a tricky one. I think this will be dictated by market conditions for each technology and governed by price, functionality and comfort. Such innovations would only be included at grassroots level if prices were low and comfort optimal. Naturally, every day we work hard to bring new technologies closer to market launch. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

5. The sports market is a keen advocate of Wearable Technologies’ products and a lot of products were well prepared for market launch in the past – I’m thinking of pulse and distance monitoring and helmet cameras. What developments are currently in the pipeline? What about the large-scale launch of Wearable Technologies in the medical sector? 

I’m sure that we will see a lot of integrated sensors and embedded electronics for motion and physiological monitoring in the future but they must, of course, be as unobtrusive as possible. I also think that there will be an increase in the use of actuators for fitting equipment to athletes, as in the case of adidas_1 a few years ago.
I think that Wearable Technologies will most likely enter the medical market. There is already a lot going on in the research community right now. We have, for instance, joined forces with industrial and medical partners to work on a Wearable Technologies’ system for the early recognition and therapeutic support of sufferers of Parkinson’s disease.

6. What is your favourite Wearable Technologies product?

My Smartphone and, of course, the adidas miCoach system.