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Sports: Can mocap, wearables and VR help..?

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Stay On Target: The Technology in Sports series

A Leaders in Sport feature, brought to you by Target3D, the Home of Motion Capture


Target3D co-founder, Ashley Keeler, kicks off our new series with an introduction to three ways that technology is changing sport. Will his intro to motion capture, wearables and virtual reality help you reach the perfect swing, throw or kick?

“I can’t argue against the most valuable asset in sports being the player, but sports science plays an increasingly vital role in that player’s success. By integrating the latest tech into sports science we can now track almost every aspect of the sport - and the players - with greater precision than ever before.

When Allan Rankin and I set up Target3D, it was all about movement. And today, quite simply, we specialise in movement. From analysing human motion to synchronising drone tracking or helping machines learn how to build things. Motion capture (mocap) tracking technologies are everywhere - our locations, movements, even heart rate data is now accessible and that’s allowing for some pretty revolutionary technological innovations. Crucially, the data produced is evidence-based.”

“3D motion capture is used by biomechanists, sports scientists, personal trainers and doctors across the world.”

In particular, Sports 3DMA by STT Systems includes running, cycling and golf swing protocols, as well as a full body analysis toolkit that analyses the entire body from head to toe with a single capture. The data is then used to explain for example which movements are efficient, identifying weaknesses and highlighting moves that could put a player at risk of injury.

For coaching, using precise and reliable mocap data is a player-centric approach to gain insight on a player’s synergistic movement.

To use his words, Nathan Adrian, the five-time Olympic swimming gold medalist, went from “just using the coach’s eyeballs” to strapping LEDs to his body in order to analyse his movement in the water. Mocap technology enabled him and his coaches to observe in real-time each individual movement - the joint position of the foot, head and spine alignment, limb symmetry and synchronization to produce each stroke - making it a more effective way of training.

On dry land, researcher Jonathan Folland took a look at running economy in 2017. Kinematic data was taken from the whole body which measured parameters such as VO2 consumption, lactate, and season’s best time while runners ran their running protocol on a treadmill. His study proved that technique can explain certain variance in running economy and performance. Minimal vertical oscillation, knee angle, and braking (foot strike), shorter contact time to the ground during stance phase, and leaning your trunk forward in an upright position suggests being more sustainable. Their findings show that it is worth investing in understanding and training your technique to produce the most proficient way of running.

One of the earlier adapters of mocap was the golfing industry, which relies on the correct form of the swing to get the best results. Here mocap allows us to capture significant individual differences by feeding back gait, angle, rotation and positioning analysis of a swing, potentially developing an amateur to an advanced player to a professional golfer. Of course, I don’t mean just anyone can pick up a golf club and become a champion after a few swings! There’s still a huge amount of physical and mental skill involved. But, it is a game-changer when it comes to an athlete returning to the game after an injury or a golf enthusiast looking to understand and improve their form. New up-coming Californian professional golfer Matthew Wolf admitted that “If no one filmed my swing, I would think I took it straight back through.”

It wasn’t too long ago that wearables in sport were the preserve of the big-budget elite sports pros. I’m sure you’ll have noticed more recently that much of the tech has begun to filter down to the consumer through the development of wearable smart technologies. So, are wearables still a coach’s best friend?

Well, Major League Soccer seems to think so and has been using the Adidas miCoach Elite System in American MLS games to track their players in real-time for a few years. The very same system that the German national football team used during The World Cup 2014. Yes, the year in which they won! So how does it work? The system requires the player to wear a TECHFIT elite compression base layer under a jersey which holds a small, PLAYER_CELL sensor. The sensor instantly tracks the player’s performance and crucial data such as speed, acceleration, power, distance and heart rate. This provides details about the player during the game as well as bringing more insight about the antecedent of an injury.

Meanwhile, 26 national and 1,000 elite teams globally are using FirstBeats Sports for Team Coaching to monitor their performance throughout off and on season. Moments of fatigue and overtraining are common in athletes; excessive exercise without adequate rest obviously has an impact on a player’s performance. The FirstBeats Sports system monitors training loads, performance readiness, fitness testing, sleep quality and lifestyle; making it easier than ever for medical and fitness teams to monitor and tweak activity off the pitch.

“With the sudden leap that virtual reality (VR) has taken recently, the sport experience is becoming more immersive in nearly every possible field, ranging from consuming content to training and recruiting athletes.”

High accuracy tracking is also enabling us to track players on and off the field which, when coupled with both wearable sports technology and VR / AR technologies, enables team players to meet in virtual space to train and evolve sport tactics.

Professional teams are used to studying films to examine their own performance or assess opponents, but the results are not always as good as they could be. By being immersed in, and watching performances again and again in virtual reality, coaches and players can enhance their training with much higher accuracy. This is the idea that, along with a $50,000 investment, got VR startup STRIVR Labs off the ground a year ago and I’ve been watching closely.

STRIVR creates VR training videos shot from the player’s perspective of the action during practices. It then enables players to receive realistic, repetitive training by visualising situations they will face on the field, through VR headsets. For instance, quarterbacks can review the options and opportunities they missed by going through a play several times and reviewing each of their teammates’ positions.

Five college NFL football teams enrolled in STRIVR’s system which is used in training for 23 college and pro teams, including the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings.

VR technology is flexible to produce any game or track scenario. In Baseball, The Los Angeles Dodgers recently started integrating VR into their batting training this year, using WIN Reality’s training system. Rookie Matt Beaty wore a HTC Vive Pro headset and was able to go up against Mets’ pitcher Noah Syndergaard’s pitch in a virtual batting practice. The VR simulation is made to identify the player’s strengths and create opportunities for improvement. In this case it provided insight to the opponent’s pitch in terms of speed, position and trajectory.

Research and development in mocap, VR and wearables is moving at lightning speed and I’m excited about the future of technology in sport. I’ve no doubt we’ll see more and more credible, evidence-based examples of top clubs and coaches tapping into the tech resources - of today and those that are currently in development - to improve performance and secure top position. Can you push ahead without it?”

Find out more about how mocap, wearables and VR can enhance your swing, kick or throw at the Leaders in Sport Performance Summit, where Target3D are bringing a live mocap demo to their stand.



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