Technology pushes the boundaries of physical excellence

Specialised sporting equipment helps optimise the performance of everyone from keen amateurs to elite athletes

President Barack Obama wears the Game Golf device developed by Galway and San Francisco-based Active Mind Technology. Photograph: Matthew Healey/Pool/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama wears the Game Golf device developed by Galway and San Francisco-based Active Mind Technology. Photograph: Matthew Healey/Pool/Bloomberg

Tue, Sep 2, 2014, 00:00

At face value, the notion of competitive sports encapsulates a certain simplicity which is hard to find elsewhere in the modern world.

Although the complexion of our favourite games has changed considerably down through the years, the basic requirements of running faster, hitting harder, jumping longer or scoring more than your opponent remain the criteria upon which success is based.

Technological evolutions have provided revolutionary breakthroughs in all facets of our lives, and the development of specialised sporting equipment to optimise the performance of everyone from keen amateurs to elite athletes promises to push the boundaries of physical excellence further than ever before across a range of disciplines.

Runners in particular have been spoiled by a glut of new additions to their armoury. Recent years have seen the introduction of wearable appliances such as Nike’s patented FuelBand, a wristband that allows wearers to build a comprehensive personal fitness profile by recording data such as distance run and calories burned in conjunction with the Nike+ Running app.

After a two year run in the market the production of the FuelBand has since been wound down, but Apple’s recent recruitment of some of the project’s foremost developers is testament to the pioneering nature of the appliance ahead of the much-anticipated launch of Apple’s so-called “iWatch” later this year.

Of course, Nike didn’t have a monopoly as regards data recording and performance enhancing sports wearables, and serious competitors in the guise of the Pebble Watch and Fitbit Force band emerged subsequent to the FuelBand’s much-heralded arrival.

The Pebble watch connects with iPhone and Android devices to give an easy-read display of distance travelled, time elapsed and the pace of cycles and runs, while its lightweight design and high-resolution LED screen make it an attractive choice for endurance sport techies.

Fitbit Force, which follows on from the earlier Fitbit Flex, carries out similar functions as well as using Bluetooth connectivity to sync gathered data to the Fitbit app which allows the user to log dietary and body mass information. Impressive as these wearable revelations seem, they certainly don’t come cheap, and tend to range in price from €100-€200.

Golfers are also particularly notable benefactors from the latest stream of technologically-inspired devices aimed at improving your game. A much-maligned aspect of the centuries-old game, various new products purport to increase both the distance and accuracy of a golfer’s drive.

Available since 2010, the SensoGlove uses built-in sensors to read the pressure of the user’s grip and displays information on a feedback screen on the back of the glove. It even possesses an audio feature to warn when and where the club is being gripped too tightly to provide a comprehensive critique of a player’s technique.

Later inventions such as the PolyPower wearable sensor and Seiko Epson’s M-Tracer have since contributed to the increasingly buoyant and lucrative market of swing perfectionists. Produced by Danish company DanfossPolyPower A/S, the PolyPower sensor wraps around the user’s arm and collates information such as bend degree and power exerted during a swing, while the M-Tracer is a club attachment that analyses the speed, power and trajectory of swings, with all information displayed via a related app.

The vaunted introduction of Google Glass to the wearable tech scene has been followed by a raft of developments in vision-based sports devices. Launched in 2011, Instabeat’s latest attachment allows swimmers to display heart rate, laps completed and calories burned on their goggles during the course of exercise.

The brainchild of Lebanese entrepreneur Hind Hobeika, it has been hailed as a seminal invention in the swimming world, and can be got for €115.

Although aimed at participants of a different sport, Recon’s HUD ski goggles operate on the same premise, using specialised Android SDK technology to display measurements such as speed, altitude and air pressure and temperature across the visor of a user’s ski helmet.

If any contact sports enthusiasts are feeling left out, such revelations aren’t just confined to solo sports. The idea for the Force Impact Technology (FIT) gumshield was originally conceived by Arizona State University student Anthony Gonzalez, after witnessing first-hand the concussive effects of a high-velocity impact injury sustained during a rugby match.

It gave him the impetus to develop the FIT gumshield, which measures the velocity and results of impact for information that can be interpreted by a physio or team doctor after a match. Given Ireland’s affinity with high-octane physical sports, it could yet prove a hit (excuse the pun) with our gumshield-clad Gaelic and rugby stars.

Then again, avid followers of most high profile team sports need not be reminded of the constant stream of information being compiled on every player and relayed to our TV screens.

From touches of the ball and kilometres run, to energy expended and even current heart-rate, as is the case with Australian Rules football broadcasts, every aspect of physical exertion is laid bare for comprehensive analysis of athletic performance by dedicated teams of trackers.

While some may not relish the prospect of a sporting world with nowhere to hide, plenty of others are willing to pay premium prices to ensure they remain leaders of the pack with the help of world-leading technology.